Category Archives: Lived Polytheism
A friend of mine is currently working in Beirut and had the opportunity to visit Baalbeck, which is home to a temple complex in stunning condition. The city was known as Heliopolis in ancient times (a quick look at wiki confirmed this) and the temple complex, a UNESCO World Heritage site, has a Temple to Bacchus and a Temple to Jupiter. My friend was kind enough to allow me to share his photographs with you, though he wishes to remain anonymous. These are just breathtaking (esp. the plaque with the image of Bacchus).
Years and years ago, over 20 now, I went through a period where Odin completely cut His presence off from me. Everyone I dealt with could sense Him around me. I still did His work effectively; but I myself had zero sense of His presence, something that until that moment, from the time I felt claimed by Him, had been a constant in my life. This devasted me. I had no idea what was happening and no conceptual spiritual framework in which to place it. I got through it, because I tend to be duty-motivated, stubborn, and I know that feeling or not feeling His presence was no reason to stop honoring the Gods, honoring Him and doing what I knew to be my spiritual work, but it broke something in me that took a very long time to heal. In time, I was grateful for that period, sort of, the way you know that something terrible made you stronger in the long run, and after about a year or so, it was like a flood gate opened and His presence was back as strong as ever.
Now, yes, I know that the majority of people, especially lay people never experience their Gods like this. I realize that having this experience even once in my life has been a privilege. At that time, however, this was my normal and I didn’t realize it wasn’t like that for most people. The sudden absence was the worst internal pain I have ever experienced. I had read all the works of mystic literature (especially the Rhine mystics like Mechthild of Magdeburg) and I had a framework for what it was like when a God swept one up, for what a theologian of medieval Christianity might term raptus and a polytheistic theologian ekstasis. I didn’t have any model at all for what happens when that stops until last night.
While doing some reading for class prep, I stumbled across a couple of texts, one of which ironically I’d read before, a long time ago for a class (but sometimes it’s a matter of reading the right thing at the right time, which last night apparently was): Guigo the Carthusian’s Ladder of Monks. (The other texts were more relevant in putting into place things I’d been recognizing about my prayer practice and I’ll save that for a separate post later. In his exploration, which is in fact a lovely letter to a fellow monk, Guigo breaks his spiritual practice into four parts: reading, meditation (on what one has read), prayer, and direct experience of the divine or contemplation. Part of what he discusses is what happens when one is suffused with the sense of the presence of one’s God and then that presence goes away. It hit me so incredibly hard. THIS was the text I’d needed so very many years ago. Here are a few passages, (keeping in mind Western Christian mystics often conceived of Christ as the Bridegroom and the soul – whether the mystic was male or female—as the Bride after the language of the Song of Songs):
“Do not fear, oh Bride, nor despair, and do not think that you’re despised if, from time to time, the Bridegroom veils His face. All of this is for your good; His leaving is just as beneficial as His coming…He comes to console you and leaves to guard… (p. 27).
The Bridegroom comes, bringing consolation and leaving desolation. He lets us taste a bit of His ineffable sweetness; but before it can penetrate us, He hides and leaves. Now, He does this in order to teach us to fly toward the Lord. Like an eagle He extends His wings and pushes us to rise” (p. 28).
Years after this particular ordeal, this absolutely accords with what I experienced with Odin and I wish that I had been aware that this framework existed, was understood and explored somewhere. Had I read just these two passages, I would have found myself better able to more productively endure. As it was, I still feel like that time left scar tissue and now my job is to break that tissue down, excise it from my soul so that evil cannot use it, cannot cement it causing me to grow around it in a shape contrary to what my God, Odin, would have for me.
Last night, having stumbled over these passages, I was sharing them with my husband and all of this came up in a rushing flood and I realized how much deep, and deeply rooted pain I carry from that time. He put on some music and we talked for a time. I respond extremely strongly to music and it’s one of the things that can put me in an altered state pretty quickly. I chalk this up to my having been a ballet dancer. I went down hard to the feet of my God and for the first time in maybe a decade, I was able to turn to mild ordeal to open myself up. It was nothing excessive. I had first asked my husband if he could do it but he honestly told me he didn’t trust his hand (and I so respect his honesty). My housemate was asleep and I wasn’t about to wake her up so I just did the ordeal on myself and then sat with Him.
I called Him, galdred to Him, received insight and runes in return and HIM the feel of His presence moving through me and highlighting the scars, cleansing some, showing me how to tend the others but most of all there was that direct engagement, furious and open and raw and joyous and a thousand other things and it was delicious, restorative and I woke today tired, scarred, but feeling so much better than I have in months. Let evil come to test and try us. It is insignificant. Only the Gods remain and that is a union which I for one will never yield.
So many thoughts on prayer and hunting for power, spiritual power, the power to clean out blockages, to obliterate all those things that root inside us, causing us to grow twisted and out of true with that which our Gods wish for us. Tonight for the first time in years, I did a small ordeal, to clean myself out, open myself up to Odin, in devotion, in love, in adoration and it was wonderful.
Each month I send out a newsletter to my subscribers. In that newsletter, I usually give sneak peaks at new prayer cards, updates on my work, recipes, reviews, and occasionally special prayers. (Y’all can subscribe at the link provided here).
In last week’s newsletter, I included the following prayer and I decided to share it here for everyone, because I think prayer is important, and this particular type of prayer incredibly helpful.
We are living in some very troubled times, and above all else, we’re living in spiritually troubled times. Evil exists and as people devoted to our Gods, we are called upon to stand against it. What that means is that we co-create. We stand with our Gods in maintaining right order and alignment in our world, in the cosmic architecture the Gods have created. How we do that may vary – some of you are parents committed to raising devout children, some have intense prayer practices, some love the Gods and carry that into everything you do – and everything we do can be infused with that consciousness whether you’re a mechanic or artist, homemaker, teacher or doctor, or anything else.
Each of us has the power to transform our world for the better and whatever we may be doing day to day, a key component of that is prayer. It has the potential to change the world. It also nourishes us and keeps us from being beaten down and crushed by the vitriol and hate, by the pollution and poison, by the misery and sheer wickedness that all too often seems to shape the modern world. I want to share a prayer that we use in my House and home to maintain balance, to restore harmony, to help (along with other prayers and cleansings) banish pollution. This prayer was written by H. Jeremiah Lewis (Sannion).
We have an entire panoply of prayers that we do to consciously align ourselves with that sacred architectural order. This is the first in that assembly and one that anyone, layperson or specialist, may do. I share it with you now because Heimdallr is a God of purification and consecration, a God Whose presence drives back pollution and evil in a very special way. He will restore harmony to a person, place, or thing that has experienced spiritual attack or disorder. I urge you to use this prayer as needed (though please don’t share it without attribution) and call upon Heimdallr and our other Gods regularly for blessings, for care, and for protection.
If you are feeling shaky and uncertain and scared, you’re not alone. Don’t give in though, because I firmly believe that there is evil that will feed on these things, amp them up, in an attempt to drive a wedge between us and all that’s holy. The thing is, whatever evil is out there can only do this if we give it the opening. Prayer helps us prevent that. Prayer is our guard, our armor, the weapon in our hand, and our guide. So I urge you all to pray regularly and know that our Gods are there and They are bigger and more powerful than anything that might attempt to stand against Them. There is no need to ever fear.
To Heimdallr Heimdallr who hears all, hear my prayer from the turrets of Himinbjörg where shimmering Bifröst meets the sky and leads to numerous other realms like a second mighty World Tree. You see all that transpires in these far-off places, scanning the horizon for signs of Ragnarök’s arrival when you will sound Gjallarhorn and rouse the Gods to battle against that which would threaten the divine order established by the three brothers from the remnants of their Giant ancestor long, long ago. You hold in your mind an image of how things should be, and act to bring things into alignment with their ideal pattern, creating order and harmony, hale and concord where there was chaos, violent disagreement, defect and disease. I beseech you, Heimdallr, drive out these negative influences and anything else that might cause me to stray from my destined path of devotion to the Holy Powers, and restore what is missing or damaged within me so that I might better fulfill the will of my Gods and Spirits. This I ask, Heimdallr, you who traveled about in secret, propagating the lines of humanity, and all their distinct crafts and customs, and so know what it is for us to strive and through great focus and direction of will attain our particular glory. Hail to you, most radiant God, strong and stubborn as a ram on his mountain, whether it pleases you to be called Heimdallr, Rig, Hallinskiði, Gullintanni, Vindhlér or any of the many other names you have adopted during your travels with Loki, Þórr and the Alföðr; may your praises always be upon my lips and your shrine piled with plentiful offerings. (prayer by H. Jeremiah Lewis)
The worst thing you can do in your spiritual life or practices is seek peer acceptance or approval from others. Your service must have the Gods at the center and must always come back to the Gods. You don’t need approval from human beings. You need approval from the Gods.
Dver has a brilliant post about the nature of devotional relationships here. I have found the same rubric holds with the elemental powers too. Fire, for instance, will always act according to its nature, regardless of the relationship you have cultivated. Anyway, go, read, learn, ponder. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.
I have been meditating quite a bit on Mundilfari, our God of time. He is the Father of Mani, Sunna, and Sinthgunt. He governs the flow of time. That is pretty much all we know about Him. While the lack of concrete information is frustrating, it’s also an opportunity to throw oneself into the experience of devotion in a way we may not when there is substantial lore.
With our crazy schedules, we’ve been talking about time a lot in my house lately. Is it oppressive or is it a guard and guide? I tend to fall into the latter category – nothing makes me happier than a watch, a day planner, and a nice calendar. As we were discussing these things, I had an epiphany about Mundilfari with respect to time. What follows is my own experience of Him. There’s almost nothing surviving in the lore.
Firstly, I think a clock is a perfect reliquary for this God, likewise a pocket watch. They have something of His understated elegance and also, well, time. My impression of Mundilfari is that He rides the flow of time as though He were surfing a wave. He wraps us up in it, protecting our boundaries, allowing us space to do what we need to do–if we recognize and utilize the gift. Far from being a harsh taskmaster, His gift is one that makes Midgard habitable.
I think about what time means in our tradition and how it is the thing that makes it possible for us to be yoked to wyrd. It’s a container for the unfolding of the material world and as such, a container for the unfolding of our hopes and dreams. It guards our day, supporting us and allowing us some control over the expenditure of our energies. It also allows and even helps us in the unfolding and nurturing of our wyrd. That is a grace and a gift.
I know there are problems with time and time management, but I think those are of our making. The three creator Gods crafted Midgard and indeed all the worlds, gave us this magnificent infrastructure and the first thing that happened after that, was that Mundilfari and His children established cyclical time, allowing us to orient ourselves in our world. This flow of Their power : day into night into day again, the turning of the seasons, the cycle of years is a sacred thing, something that sustains that divinely crafted multi-world infrastructure, allowing it the flexibility it needs (to rest and refresh itself) to be self-sustaining. I am coming to think that Mundilfari’s blessings do the same for us too and hopefully, over the next couple of years, I will learn to honor Him more fully and well.
If any of my readers pay cultus to Him, I would love to hear about what y’all do.
The Astronomical Clock in Prague
He of the crooked and twisted foot,
Master of smithcraft, sorcery, and beauty,
He born of the heavens and tethered to the earth,
Mighty One and wise. I hail Him.
That would be Hephaestus and while I don’t have any particular devotional practice to Him, I will honor Him whenever the chance presents itself and I will do so by His ancient titles, including Κυλλοποδιων: lame/of the crooked-foot. The epithets of a God are mysteries in and of themselves. They are doorways into a unique and particular experience of that God and contain keys to understanding – in as much as any human may—one small aspect of a Holy Power. It is never for us to discard an epithet because we feel too “woke” for devotion. To do this is a disgusting display of arrogance, stupidity, and impiety.
Yes, folks. This issue is coming around again. I’ve written about it twice before here and here in more depth. Those who pay cultus to Hephaestus should batten down the proverbial hatches because this idiocy is back, running like shit through a goose in the more polluted corners of tumblr (which means, we’re going to have a new crop of converts who have zero idea of how to properly address this Deity, and feel ashamed when they are pulled to honor Him as Κυλλοποδιων. Wooooo. Fun times. *Sarcasm*).
I’m seeing nonsense like, “you can only use this epithet for Hephaestus if you yourself are mobility impaired.” Well, wrong. Anyone may use it whenever that person wishes to connect to Him and gain deeper understanding of His power. That’s what this epithet is about: His power. You do not have to be mobility impaired to call Him by this name.
I’ve also seen this one: “even if you’re mobility impaired, if you choose to use this, be sensitive to our feelings.” NO. Your feelings simply do not matter here. Not where devotion is concerned. They are yours to manage, not ours. Your feelings do not take center stage in the matter of devotion—especially when the devotional relationship has nothing to do with you– and certainly not in the relationship between a devotee and his or her Gods. You go on feeling oppressed by a title – this is what, in part, an epithet is: a title, an expression of a God’s power—while the rest of us will go pour out some offerings.
I’m done even trying to be conciliatory or nice about this. The people who spread this bullshit are spreading pollution, lies, and wickedness to newcomers too new and inexperienced to know any better and they’re peddling their pollution through the vehicle of being socially aware and “woke.” It’s foul and disgusting and so are those who push this crap.
It is not our place to start removing, burying, and ignoring the most sacred epithets of our Gods. Instead, we’d be better served by contemplating what those epithets mean, what they teach us about the Deity in question, and how we can better honor the Holy Powers in our lives. Of course, that’s not going to get you a pat on the head or allow for the acquisition of oppression points.
Now this crippled bitch, who belongs to a one-eyed God, is going off to bed. Good fucking night.
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Every so often this topic rears its head again, because you know, it goes against our modern sensibilities that our religion should be occasionally inconvenient. I’ve heard people opining that “miasma” and “pollution” are Greek terms and have no purchase in Heathenry, a pathetic piece of sophistry that ignores the concept in favor of pedantically parsing terms. These are usually the same people who feel that offering so much as a teaspoon of water is so inconvenient as to be oppressive (cue hand to brow and vaporous gasping) and triggering. I could say more on that, but I’ll digress. What I will emphasize is that pollution and purification are absolutely terms of play in Old Norse.
There are numerous terms that might be translated as ‘purification,’ ‘pollution,’ or ‘miasma’ in Old Norse. This is because like most traditions, our ancestors had a sense of what was correct and safe in holy places. Any time you have a sense of sacred space (which we know just from the Sagas that the Norse had), the corollary is – whether written or not—a sense of what constitutes proper behavior within those sacred areas. This implies not only an understanding of spiritual pollution but also of the contagion of the holy. So, I’m going to get right to the point. Pollution and miasma were far, far from alien concepts to pre-Christian Heathens and the language itself bears this out.
Since Heathen Field Guide is talking about his here, and mentioned that he was having difficulty finding appropriate ON terms, I thought I would repost the ones that I have collected (and much thanks to D. Loptson for helping to compile this list). Most of the terms are laid out in footnote one of my book on miasma: “With Clean Minds and Clean Hands.”
I’ll add a final note. When we talk about pollution in this sense, it’s not a commentary on anyone’s worth. It is not equivalent to “sin.” Even with miasma, in most cases it’s a matter of certain situations having natural consequences and that’s neutral. For instance, I may go to the cemetery to put flowers on my grandmother’s grave. It is, within our traditions a moral good to care for the dead and visit graves. It also puts me in a state of miasma because of the contact with the dead. The solution is to do a cleansing when I return home before I engage with any other sacred thing. Easy enough to manage. This is all about being aware that Gods and spirits are real and that engaging with them affects us in ways we may not be able to see, but ways that nonetheless matter. Likewise, in relation to the Holy Powers, our actions matter too and we should, if we are rightly ordered in our minds, hearts, and spirits, want to be spiritually and energetically clean when we approach Them, or just in general, particularly since miasma and spiritual pollution can attract more pollution, up to and including illness and calamity depending on how much accumulates. It can also block our spiritual discernment. So do a fucking cleansing once in awhile you filthy animals. And don’t forget to wash behind your ears.
Grant H. recently sent me some lovely prayers to our Moon God and I’m delighted to share them with you today (with Grant’s permission). Mani has been so incredibly lovely of late and such a gracious and protective presence in our lives. It is right and fit to honor Him always and I love hearing from people who do. 🙂
Mani, still shining The lesser lights of man have stolen the Stars from the sky; That is what it appears to be, at least. In truth, the Star spirits are still there, simply hidden away by modern light pollution. (Modern Life pollution?) And I weep for the Star spirits I can no longer see. But I still see Mani shining bright in the night sky. And that does put a smile upon my face. So I smile and wave to Mani, And - though I cannot see it with my two mortal eyes - I do see that he smiles back. To Mani Mighty Mani, shining bright; Only celestial body I see tonight. I give you this offering in honor of your sacred light. The tides flow because of you, and I am grateful for that. Life is possible on this planet because of you, and I thank you for that. I thank you Mani I thank you Mani, shining bright; Only celestial body I see tonight. I give you an offering, as is my duty and your right; Only celestial body I see tonight. I thank you for the tides, Mani shining bright; Only celestial body I see tonight. I thank you for the glowing tides, that grant the planet flowing life; Mani shining bright; Only celestial body I see tonight. White gold moon I see Mani in the sky, shining bright; Only celestial body I see tonight. He is the white gold moon Golden and bright, shining in his fullness with the moon’s blessed light. Hail the white-gold moon! (All prayers/poems copyright Grant Hodel 2021).
While our House does not practice Rodnovery (1), given that two of us have strong Slavic backgrounds (the author of today’s piece actually having been born and raised in the Ukraine), it was perhaps inevitable that the occasional Slavic Deity would creep into individual devotional practices (2). For instance, our guest writer today, T. Vitta, has a deep devotion to Moist Mother Earth and when a mutual friend asked about the relationship between this ancient Power and the Goddess Mokosh, it provided an opportunity for T.V. to explore her understanding of these two Deities. I found her words inspiring and asked permission to share them here. She agreed with the caveat that this reflects her understanding and practice. One should always note that there is the possibility for distinctive regional cultus to develop in many different ways (and such most certainly happened as a matter of course in the pre-Christian world), and as part of that, syncretism may also happen. This is always a given point of understanding undergirding her approach. There is obviously a deep working relationship between these two Deities, at the very least, and she acknowledges that this can take forms for other devotees of which she herself is heretofore unaware.
Mokosh and Moist Mother Earth
By T. Vitta
Moist Mother Earth is much much older than Makosh (3). She is ever present, in Russian fairy tales, embedded in Russian language so strongly. She is a matter of course a part of Russian swears, Russian promises, and an inescapable part of Russian speech. I sometimes listen to my parents and their friends, but more often Russian movies and Russian documentaries and smile at how expressions are littered with Her, in ways that tell you plainly who She is – very often without people giving full credence to what they are saying.
If there has ever been a human bodily representation of Her, I have never seen one or found one, not in writings and not in archaeological findings. I don’t believe She has ever taken human form, not from what I have seen, read, or experienced (but I can only speak from my point of view and my experience.) I just don’t think She ever had a need to do so. She is the Land, the living spirit of the Slavic lands. She is the progenitor of health, wealth of the land, fertility, death and the afterlife. She nourishes when those of Her land are ill, She picks up those who are tired and hurt, and when people of Her land are near death, She collects them, She is the One in whose arms we fall for the last time. She is so ingrained into the very make-up of the Slavic people, Her names are still embedded in the language. Today, I hear Her invoked more when people are dying or are dead, probably because people live in cities. You can’t separate Her from the language, it’s a part of it. Last year I did a translation of an old Russian fairytale for one of Galina’s publications, and at her encouragement I made a very detailed footnote on Her (4). One of the oddities about the US to me is how people here, compared to those I grew up with, don’t have this attachment to the land whatsoever (5). All the nationalistic songs in Russia and Ukraine, the very way that the people there fight wars, fight for their land – it all goes back to Her. When you read all those old stories you see it staring you in the face – heroes who are far away from home saying how their aching bones need to go back to their land, to feel Moist Mother Earth under their feet, how when they fall on the field of battle, they lay themselves on the Moist Mother Earth, asking for Her peace, for Her to embrace them at the moment of their death. What has been amazing is that this past year, when faced with illness or lack of vitality, I instinctively prayed to Her for strength and healing, and She heard me, immediately coming to my rescue time after time. I think it’s the bloodline, She recognized the bloodline and reached out to Her people. I suspect that there is an unbreakable contract between the Slavs and Moist Mother Earth, and that this contract is so strong and they still uphold it, still ask for Her help, and She still comes to us all. She is the seeded field. She is the health of the soil. She is who gives us power and gives us the right to the land. She is the fertility of our land. She feeds us with Her strength when we are weak and sick. Her cold embrace takes us in when we must transition.
Makosh on the other hand is a weaving Goddess. She is the Goddess of the hearth, the Goddess of fate, Goddess of the “women’s” crafts. In the days these deities were prayed to, things were strictly gendered between the two sexes, and She is pretty much as close as you can come to a Goddess of female mysteries, if you forgive the expression. I think this is why people conflate them – they are both Goddesses that bring plentifulness. The thing is, it’s a very different kind of plentifulness. Makosh, being the Goddess of Fate and Hearth, brings good luck into the home, helps the bread rise, and weaves the futures of all men (humans, I mean by that). Moist Mother Earth is the fertility of the earth itself, life coursing and pumping itself through the earth to all the animals and plants. Close – but not the same. Moist Mother Earth does not distinguish us from every other living creature living on Her. Makosh – I suspect those who are Hers will learn to weave, learn to spin, learn to work magic into their cooking and learn the magic of the crafts that were considered traditionally female. If you pray for- let’s say pregnancy,– you would pray to Moist Mother Earth for fertility. You could pray to Makosh – but because She will weave fate to bring you a child, because She will bring joy into the home.
I just googled “Moist Mother Earth” in Russian and the 4th link on google says “ensemble, Jesus the Savior and Moist Mother Earth”… People don’t even think about it there, it just is (6).
Notes (added by GK):
- Slavic Polytheism, from the word Rodina or motherland.
- In my case, it’s more the occasional Baltic Deity. I have no particular devotion to either of the Goddesses discussed today, save simple respect.
- I have also seen this name spelled Mokosh. We are translating a divine name of a Holy Power honored throughout Slavic lands at one point so there will be linguistic differences in pronunciation and spelling, not to mention all of this is being transliterated into English. If you see it spelled differently elsewhere, relax.
- See Issue 12 of Walking the Worlds, The Bewitched Queen, translated by T. Vitta. The footnote (footnote 7) reads as follows:
“The expression “moist earth” has a special significance in Slavic language and Slavic culture. This is a diminutive of the full expression “Moist Mother Earth”, often heard when heroes are expressing their love for the land in which they were born. It is an intimate prayer to the soil of their land itself. This is because the language itself has been permanently marked by 1,000s of years of prayer to Moist Mother Earth and is now inseparable from the language and its people, a practice long before Christianity came to the Slavic lands. She is the progenitor of health, wealth, fertility, and death and afterlife alike. Moist Mother Earth is the original primordial Goddess the Slavic people prayed to when they seeded the earth and watched the crops grow, when they were suffering and in pain, and when they were far away from the very soil of their homeland. This expression stayed in the language, an ancient prayer recalling the connection between the land and its people. Even in cursory sentences like this it is evoked to remind the reader of the fertility of the land, and how we all eventually and rightfully are put into it to take up our journeys after we die.
This expression is evoked especially in the older written texts such as fairytales when people lived closer to the land, survived and died via the land. It appears both when the character talks about the fertility of the earth, such as in the above passage, but also in how it is the inevitable place we all must go to when we die. This appears in such expressions as “he laid his head on the moist earth” that often appear in fairytales to note the hero as close to death. While this is a tragic point in the tale, a time when the hero is dying, this is also a powerful reminder of our ties to the land. Moist Mother Earth is not the enemy that forcibly takes you, rather She is ever loving and loyal and takes you in when life is too much to bear. Dying and coming into her is like coming home. This is a particular connection between the Slavic people and the Slavic land, a promise, a covenant that the people know so instinctively that long after Christianization erased all memory of the prayers to a deity, they still pray to Her and She still knows them. She hears their prayers, and She comforts and protects and eventually takes you in. “
5. Since taking a course last year in the History of Jerusalem, I have often pondered the lack of connection to a specific land that I see in modern polytheists and pagans. Is it because our sacred sites were destroyed so thoroughly? Is it because at least in America, we are working in diasporic traditions? Is it something in the attitudes of modernity? I don’t know but I wonder what we have lost by this.
6. Tatyana told me after she sent me this that there are numerous examples of Moist Mother Earth being syncretized with the Virgin Mary.