Category Archives: Lived Polytheism

Working Through the Fallow Times

(I posted this a couple of years ago and stumbled across it again recently. I’m posting here for reflection. It seems particularly timely since i’ve been getting a lot of emails from folks wondering what to do in dark or confusing spiritual times). 

Working through the Fallow Times with a Ladder of Monks

I’m taking a class this semester in medieval studies that explores the spiritual senses through the corpus of early Christian literature. Some of it is fascinating, some of it is vexing, but so far it’s not been boring and I”m learning a lot. One thing I didn’t expect was to encounter a text, with which I was heretofore completely unfamiliar, that gave me language and guidance in traveling through one’s dark night of the soul, those fallow times where the presence of one’s Gods can seem absent or so very far away.

I think this is as close to universal to the mystical experience as anything gets. The terminology I use is heavily influenced by John of the Cross because when I first went through it, that was what I had to help me understand and survive the experience, but I’ve talked to countless polytheists, (many mystics, some not,) and almost without exception, they understood when I mentioned this. There was always a tension, averted eyes filled with remembrance of their own spiritual deserts, nods of understanding, and grief, sometimes confusion and pain flickering over their features. We are so ill-prepared when this happens. We have communities where no one wants to talk about their experiences especially the ones that might brand them a mystic (working class suspicion of and hostility toward mysticism runs deep in Heathenry at least), where there is often a deep hostility toward anything not mediated by texts, and where there simply aren’t enough trained, competent clergy, clergy who have nurtured and sustained for themselves the type of devotional relationship upon which such a fallow period is predicated. We’re getting there, but with our restorations under a hundred years old, we still have a way to go and its times like this where that shows. (Though to be honest, these days i’m not sure one would find much more useful help and guidance even in Christianity…). We scramble for what we can get in terms of human guidance and all too often are blindsided and crushed when the fallow times come upon us.

That’s why I was blown away last week when I read Guigo II’s “Ladder of Monks.” I resisted reading it and put it off till the last moment but it’s a book that I think personally I shall continue to treasure for a long time. It’s written by a 12th Century Cistercian Abbot as a letter to his friend and spiritual brother Gervase. In it, with charming simplicity and humility, he lays out his process for engaging in what Christians call “lectio divina,” a type of engaged, close reading of spiritual texts that has the potential to lead to direct experience with God. While I’m still suspicious of any mysticism mediated by a text — I’ve seen what passes in Heathenry where reification and sometimes outright fetishization of the texts often supplants devotion to the Gods (perhaps in some misguided habitual desire for a “Scripture”?)— I was quite struck by the useful beauty of his four steps: reading, meditation, prayer, and finally contemplation (which in this text is more or less used as a synonym for direct experience with one’s God, i.e. mystical experience). The text is also replete with lush metaphors of wine and inebriation, wherein spiritual experiences are likened to the sweetness of the grape. He talks of the taste of God, speaking to the senses as mystics do, and of longing. Most importantly of all, he provides a cogent, carefully considered reasoning for those times when God withdraws His presence and I thought of every mystic and every god spouse that I have ever known when I read this:

“There is a common saying that too much familiarity breeds contempt. And so He withdraws Himself, so that He is not despised for being too attentive, so that when He is absent, He may be desired the more, that being desired He may be sought more eagerly, that having been sought for He may at last be found with greater thankfulness.” (p. 77).

I read that and remembered when Odin cut me off from His presence. It was not punishment. Everyone else around me could still sense Him and I was able to work, but I myself was denied the sweetness and grace of His presence, something that I had rested in, partaken of, relied on pretty much constantly for years. For the better part of a year I was bereft. I think it’s the thing every Odin’s woman fears most: that she will no longer be useful to Him, loved by Him, present in Him. Divination after divination gave no relief, in fact I was told that this was very much something I had to go through, that I had to learn to trust that He was there, even when I could not sense Him, that one can rely too much on one’s senses and forget about one’s duty, that it’s easy to do as He wills when one has the “reward” or incentive of that Presence, but not so easy to do with grace what is asked when one’s spiritual life seems a barren wasteland, that it was easy to become complacent. It was absolutely the worst period of my life, even up to and including my mother’s death — they pretty much stand side by side in terms of anguish. In retrospect though, I wouldn’t change it. I grew in my devotion to Him, and ultimately in my connection to and adoration for Him in ways that never would have been possible had I relied solely on the connection as I knew it. It forced me to seek Him out, to find Him again.

In class discussion, I mentioned that I was particularly taken by how relevant this book is as a spiritual texts for those of all traditions today. One of the professors asked me to elaborate. At first I hesitated (and as someone else chimed in, hoped he would forget his question lol. I didn’t want to have to talk about my non-academic life) but he pressed the question and I explained that I work within my religion to teach people devotional practices, a religion that is not a religion of the book, that has many converts from Protestant traditions that have an inculcated expectation of Scripture, and that it’s a mess. I also explained that I taught for a year at a seminary and in both cases I’d seen the same thing: people would go through an experience of isolation from their Gods. They would go into a dark night of the soul and not understand. Many would break and leave their tradition, wounded, or struggle for years thinking they had done something wrong or were not “worthy” of their tradition. (I’ve encountered all these responses and more). I pointed out that Guigo’s text first and foremost positions this type of experience as perfectly normal to spiritual life. In no way (unlike what I have occasionally seen in our communities) is the person pathologized or blamed for the experience. It’s not only positioned as normal, but clear advice, both earlier and later in the text is given for getting through it. It’s here that lectio divina shines, and here I think even those of us who are not working in textually based traditions (traditions that have a ‘holy book’) can find merit. This is what our lore can be used for! When one is going through a period where one’s Gods are absent, reading sacred texts, studying the stories of one’s God, praying makes one’s God present in one’s heart and memory. The absence is filled by longing.

I think too many people never experience their Gods directly, the overwhelming fullness, inebriation Guigo might say, of Presence, and mistake study of lore, or sacred texts AS experienced when in fact it’s only a jumping off point. I think over a thousand years of religions of the book have patterned us to settle for the text alone (far easier to determine orthodoxy and consolidate ecclesiastical power when experience can be limited by a text). It’s good to see a text that reaches above all of that, that points the way for a progressive and potent usage of the written word, one that doesn’t mediate or block direct experience but leads the way to it, and sustains through the dark times.

Source:

“Ladder of Monks and Twelve Meditations” by Guigo II, translated by Edmund Colledge and James Walsh (1979), NY, NY published by Cistercian Publications through Doubleday and Co.

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On the Subject of Syncretism

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.

Close up of my Hermes shrine

My friend Carlton was visiting recently (we go to school together) and, not being a polytheist, he was fascinated by my various shrines. Since he’s teaching a theology class this semester, he asked if he could take photos to use in his class (and i’m ok with that). This is the photo he took of my Hermes shrine. I love the angle of the close up, and the drama of the black and white,  so I got his ok to share it here. 

Hermes shrine aug. 31 Carlton

(Photo by C. Chase. Used with permission).

Polytheistic Voices: Interview with Emily Kamp

PannykhisEKI first met Emily through my husband’s tradition, the Starry Bull and over the years we’ve had quite a few conversations on honoring the dead, raising children in our polytheistic traditions, and the importance of building a hearth tradition. I was very glad when she agreed to be interviewed for this series. 

 

 

GK: Tell us a little bit about yourself. Who are you, what do you do?

Emily: Hi there! I’m Emily, a polytheist and initiate of the Starry Bull tradition. I do a lot of devotional work for my Gods and Spirits, and most of that work consists of divination, education, development of local-focus traditions, ritual creation and adaptation, singing for the Gods and Spirits, and honoring the local Dead. I’m currently exploring face paint and stage makeup as ways of adding depth and drama to ritual.

When I’m not doing devotional work, I’m the social media marketing manager for a small tea company and a mother of a four-year-old who enjoys praying to the ancestors and rocking out to hair metal.

GK: How did you come to polytheism? What tradition do you practice?

Emily: I’ve been a polytheist (unwillingly, at first), since I encountered Hermes at the age of seven. I began exploring Hellenic polytheism as a teenager, and solidifying my practice in the late 2000s; 2013-14 found me stumbling into the Starry Bull tradition, which has been more or less my base of operations ever since. My praxis is usually Hellenic. I do find myself exploring the outskirts though, drawing from other traditions and regions that associate with Dionysian ones—off the top of my head, I can think of the Greek Magical Papyri, Ptolemaic Egypt, and even some Norse materials. (Congratulations on creating the Comitatus Pilae Cruentae, by the way! It’s been fascinating to watch its evolution. I’m really excited to see where that goes.)

GK: Why unwilling to become a polytheist? That’s interesting!

Emily: Not as surprising as you might think—I was raised in a Christian household. It was not an easy thing to see past my upbringing to the reality of the Gods—I felt Them calling me as soon as I started reading myths, but couldn’t figure out if these “storybook figures” were actually calling to me or just really vivid imaginary friends. Muddling the matter was the fact that I had channeled my interest in Divine Mystery and mysticism into my family’s church. I even (when still quite young) considered joining the clergy! Choosing instead to go with  the Gods who called me meant turning a significant portion of my family’s culture and personal identity on its head, and eventually dealing with my family’s responses to my choices. It was incredibly rewarding, but not easy.

GK: You work a great deal with Pentheus. Can you tell my readers who he is and why you work with him and how that has impacted your spiritual life?

Emily: Pentheus was a king of Thebes and a first cousin of Dionysos. In life, he refused to let Dionysos spread his cultus to Thebes and, long story short, suffered the consequences. After being torn apart by a group of Dionysos’ maenads, his own mother among them, he became one of the Dionysian dead—death by dismemberment is a forced initiation.

As one of the Dionysian dead, and one of the Dionysian kings, he works a great deal with restoring right relations between the Dead, the Land Spirits, the living, and the Gods; as a Spirit, he is a sin-eater who can take the brunt of incredibly miasmic forces and still be okay. He is an incredible ally when I’m working to restore right relationships between the Gods, Land, and Dead of the city I live in; we have similar goals. In a way, he acts as a bit of a spiritual compass for me, giving me strong instincts regarding proper treatment of the local Spirits and Dead and a sense of when miasma needs to be cleansed.

On a personal level, he and his story have helped me break through some conditioning and perfectionism issues that were holding my devotional work back. I honor Him primarily through ecstatic dance accompanied by a specific type of music—usually something with a strong, driving beat, in a minor key, with lyrics that speak to all the emotions that accompany a need to be broken open. As I dance, I open myself up to Pentheus and allow him to see what has been troubling me. When he finds the thread he wants to trace, it feels like our emotions meld and my story fuses to His. The story gives me a way to feel my emotions and work through pain (particularly deeply-repressed pain) without getting stuck in a negative spiral—we know how Pentheus’ story ends, and it is a cathartic union with Dionysos. Maybe not the gentlest of cathartic unions, but it’s the kick in the pants I need!

GK: What challenges have you faced raising your child as a polytheist? Can you recommend any resources for polytheistic parents?

Emily: My daughter isn’t in school yet, so I haven’t had to face the things I’m most worried about just yet; I’m not looking forward to talks I may have with her teachers or helping her field/deal with comments about her beliefs. There have been challenges, though. Telling her grandparents about our beliefs was scary, and I consider it a blessing that they have been nothing but understanding. Now if we could just find a preschool in the area that wasn’t run out of a church…

As for resources, on a spiritual level I highly recommend forging a relationship with one’s ancestors if it’s not already there. The ancestors have a vested interest in seeing their descendants succeed, after all!

In terms of books, articles, and blogs, I’m still (always) looking for resources, but the book that introduced me to the Theoi when I was still little was Aliki’s The Gods and Goddesses of Olympus. I know other Hellenic polytheists who read D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths. Two of my favorite polytheist bloggers who also write about their experiences as parents are Camilla Laurentine and Sarenth—Camilla is great at giving details about how her practice and parenting shape each other and tips for how to include children in festivals (like her article on celebrating the Kalends with her daughter here!), while Sarenth has given some great advice on why raising our children in our traditions is important (like in this article here).

And for my unsolicited advice as a polytheist parent: use LOTS of images of the Gods in your home, and have illustrated mythology books oriented towards kids, so your children can get used to seeing and talking about the Gods. It’s a good thing to have even if the myths are from outside your tradition—that’s how I got introduced to Hermes to begin with. Researching local temples for other polytheistic traditions in your area (Hindu or Shinto in particular) gives children a great place to learn about living polytheism. It’s also a great opportunity to teach them about temple rules and hospitality!

And nothing beats having friends in the area who are polytheists or sympathetic to polytheists, especially if they’re parents themselves. Having a community to remind you that you aren’t alone is invaluable, especially given how isolating and stressful the attitude toward parenting is in the U.S. right now. If you can’t find friends in your area, finding an online community is still a big help!

GK: What would you tell someone wanting to begin a devotional relationship with the Gods in general and Dionysos in particular?

Emily: The same sort of thing I’d tell someone who was planning on making a big change to any part of their life—leaving their job to find a new career, or getting married, or having children, or any of the myriad adventures we can go on in our lives. You have to want it, you have to be willing to work for it and you have to be okay with it changing you. As with any other big change, you will change, and as old parts of your life start fading away you may see things and people you love go with it.

It’s up to you to decide where your boundaries are, where you aren’t willing to go, and what (and whom) you aren’t willing to give up. And it’s up to you to decide when and if the sacrifices are worth it. If you feel fear, don’t ignore it—but don’t succumb to it, either, because the times we most fear leaping are often the times our Gods will most want us to.

This sounds a bit cliched even for my tastes, but it’s true—I suspect anyone walking these paths will know exactly what I mean.

GK: I know that developing a devotional life is not without its challenges and Dionysos can be especially adamant about facing our weaknesses. How have you dealt with the challenges that have come up in your devotional life? What has worked for you, what really hasn’t, and what would you suggest when others hit those bitter, dark places?

Emily: Man, and I thought this interview was going to be easy.

Because of my particular blend of issues, my response to dealing with problems in my devotional life has largely been to pretend they don’t exist. It has gone about as well as you’d imagine. I do eventually scratch my way out, but it’s definitely a fight.

We all encounter times where we question why we’re doing this, what good we’re getting out of it, or why the Gods are treating us this way. Maybe your Gods have gone silent on you, or maybe They’ve taken an outright antagonistic role and you’re starting to resent your practice. Maybe your whole life got turned upside down and nothing feels stable.

My first and biggest piece of advice is: get a therapist. Get a therapist with whom you can get along—that part’s vital, and might take some shopping around. Particularly with Deities like Dionysos, the rough spots in our devotional lives often stem from things we haven’t yet faced in our lives outside of devotional work. (And vice-versa—problems in our devotional lives can and will radiate outward into our lives outside of that work.)  It can make an incredible difference to have a therapist who will listen to your problems and help you spot the negative and/or unsuccessful patterns you’re stuck in. A therapist who’s worth their salt will listen to you regardless of religion and not judge you for it.

Outside of therapy: don’t be afraid to change how you do things devotionally; don’t be afraid to scale a practice back, or look for new ways to work, or to approach new Deities. You know how pharmaceutical commercials say “ask your Doctor if XYZ is right for you”? Ask your diviner if XYZ is right for you. And if your diviner says that this issue is for you to work out on your own…listen to Them. The Gods will sometimes back off to give you the space to work through matters on your own before regrouping.

If you’re outright feeling resentful to the point that you are refusing to engage in prayer, or if you feel repulsed from it…you probably won’t want to take my advice, but I’ll say it anyway: you probably have a larger unresolved issue going on that is starting to become miasmic. It’s like the psychological version of a wound that became infected instead of healing. You’ll need to do all of the above and consult someone who can help you build up a stronger regimen for cleansing your energy and that of your living space. Dear fellow perfectionists: I feel like we’re some of the most at-risk people for this. You’ll see the beauty in your high standards when it’s time to discipline yourself for a new and better devotional regimen.

GK: I very much agree with that. If you can find a polytheistic friendly therapist, go because old scars, wounds, issues, pain, insecurities — it’ll all be dredged up in the course of this work precisely so we can deal with it. Ignoring that can be devastating. That being said, can you tell us a little bit about the Gods and spirits that you honor and are there particular protocols that ought to be followed?

Emily: I primarily honor Dionysos, Ariadne, Hermes, Hestia, my Ancestors, the Gods and Spirits and Dead of my city, and the Gods and Spirits and Dead of the Starry Bull tradition (particularly Alexander of Makedon and Pentheus). I feel hesitant to speak on protocols, not because they’re unimportant but because I have little experience in recognizing and implementing them relative to the spirit workers I know. Here are some opinions on and examples of my personal protocols, though:

Dionysos tends not to be as heavy on protocol, but it depends on the capacity in which one is honoring Him. His protocols go up, for example, if you are honoring Him as Eubouleus, “He of Good Counsel” (a chthonic aspect associated with mediating relationships between the living and the Dead). Really, anything having to do with the Dead will be pretty high protocol because of the higher risk of miasmic contamination.

Ariadne is high-protocol during festivals. She is the High Holy one, and should be approached as such. To do anything less is to show disrespect to Her. I go through a multilayered cleansing to set aside ritual space for Her: delineating Her sacred space with a line of cornmeal or kaolin clay, asperging everything inside that boundary with khernips, walking its perimeter with a candle and inviting Fire to consume and transmute any pollution inside the boundary, and maintaining the purity of the space with incense. Cleansing baths are also a must with rituals to Ariadne, and I have even changed which beauty products I use and how I apply them if what I was doing didn’t feel “clean” enough.

Hermes is not usually high-protocol (unless you are honoring Him in His capacity as psychopomp—but again, that’s because of the influence of the Dead). He respects protocol as a sign of respect, and will happily receive it, but if I make too great or too formal an offering, especially on someone else’s behalf, the offering does not seem to go over well with Him. He values offerings made with a strong sense of situational awareness.

GK: i never thought about that, but you’re right. The only time He is high protocol with me is in that particular capacity and it’s very much on account of the dead. The dead can be *massively* high protocol!

Pentheus has given me a specific cleansing protocol for honoring Him—a cleansing bath that contains dry, tannic red wine. I find the Dionysian Kings value ritual purity pretty highly: Alexander favors white clothes and frankincense, while Pentheus favors black clothing and catharsis with blood or wine.

I clean and cleanse my house from top to bottom once a week to honor Hestia and the Household Gods and Spirits, and try to maintain that cleanliness as much as I can. Hestia Herself has never struck me as high-protocol. She is happy with a well-kept home that is comforting and inviting to others, and offerings that are associated with hospitality. Just as Hestia resides at the center of the home of the Gods, though, this practice is the center of all the rest of mine; it ensures that my living space is clean enough (physically and on a miasmic level) to accommodate my other practices.

On days with historic significance in my city, I visit graveyards and offer to the Dead there to help soothe Them and bring Them joy. I have a certain set of cemetery protocols I follow to help soothe the Dead and keep Them from following me home, involving offerings of tobacco and liberal use of kaolin clay.

I do divination once a month on behalf of the Gods and Spirits of the Starry Bull tradition and follow a strict protocol for setting up divination space and calling the presence of my Ancestors, Gods, and Spirits into it. Following this protocol makes my divination much, much clearer.

GK: Sannion mentioned to me that you do a blog on domestic cultus. Can you tell me a little bit about what that type of cultus entails, what got you involved, etc. and share the blog?

Emily: I do! The blog I run, Home, Hearth, and Heart, is dedicated to Hestia, and contains suggestions for all types of devotional work (for Household Gods and Spirits or otherwise). These are pretty basic materials; one of my target audiences is the group of people who are new to revived polytheistic faiths, who might not have much of an idea of where to begin and what all, outside of research, they can do.

I give themed devotional suggestions for each day of the week—creating Deity playlists on Music Mondays and dusting altar decorations on Cleanse-Day Wednesdays, for example. Alongside these, I include commentary on lunar calendar dates, links to hymns, important dates in the Hellenic month, festival descriptions, and the occasional Q&A. These are the things I wish I’d had when I was starting out about a decade ago!
For those of you who want to check it out, you can find it here.

GK: Thank you, Emily. I appreciate you taking the time to do the interview. For those reading, i’d love to hear what type of hearth cultus you all maintain, what you do at home, what challenges have arisen, and how you’ve dealt with them — especially if you’re laity. I don’t think we hear enough from our lay voices. So feel free to post in the comments. 

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Be sure to check out my other sites:

Wyrd Curiosities at Etsy

My academia.edu page

My amazon author page.

Walking the Worlds Journal

My art blog at Krasskova Creations

My blog about all things strange, weird and medieval.

And if you like what you see, consider becoming a sponsor at Patreon.

Polytheistic Voices: Interview with Lykeia

20170306_160233 (1)This month’s “Polytheistic Voices Interview” is with Lykeia of Lykeia’s Botanica. I”ve known her for several years now as a devout devotee of Apollon. She’s also a painter and sculptor who makes beautiful images and icons of the Gods (she’s working on a Mani statue for as I type this). She has several books on Apollon available and has done a great deal over the last few years to build and promote His cultus. Thank you, Lykeia for taking the time to answer these questions.

GK: Let’s start with something really basic for those who may not know you. Tell me a little bit about yourself. I”m betting most of my readers aren’t familiar with you. Who are you and what do you do? LOL.

Lykeia: Well my name is Lykeia, a name that was given to me in Greece during a naming ceremony. You know this ceremony for adults is adapted from household naming ceremonies that introduce new children to the gods of the household. You don’t realize just how adapted it has to be until you do it with children, as has been done with both of my youngest children following their seventh day. This name refers the wolf (and light) which is a pretty significant part of my relationship with Apulu (Apollon). After…wow 20 years (now that I think of it) of worship.. my gods and ancestors have requested that I used terminology and spiritual cues from my Etruscan ancestors. This has been a huge adaption for me I am sure you can imagine. All the same it doesn’t much affect what I do as a crafter and icon maker. It has taken me many years to get a shop started but I am pleased that it is finally having groans of growing pains. Slow as it be. When not crafting I write. I have a series of booklets gradually coming out (2 of which are currently published and available) dealing with devotional worship of Apollon. I am also working on finishing a novena for him and starting up a year long book of hymns and meditations for his devotees. Let me see, the only other pertinent information is perhaps that I am a married mother of three living in Alaska.

GK: How did you come to polytheism?

Lykeia: I totally fell in love with the gods when I was 12 and read my first book of mythology. They just made sense to me on a very instinctive and practical than an omniscient far away father god in Christianity. It wasn’t until I was 14 and doing research for a school report that I came across the goddess spirituality books of Starhawk. While goddess spirituality wasn’t my cup of tea as I had a fondness for several male deities, it did start the ball rolling in the right direction. I read everything related to Paganism that I could get my hands. I discarded popular Wicca for its duotheism and eventually Stregheria (which I got into as an attempt to embrace my heritage but left disappointed for some of the same problems I had with popular Wicca). Even before getting in with the streghe, in my teens I had already started abandoning Pagan texts for texts on ancient history and religion. So that kind of was the writing on the wall. After my stint with the streghe, I put all of my energy into Polytheism that was more in line with my initial passion…the ancient Polytheistic practices.

GK: Why Apollon? (I hate it when people ask me this about Odin, but it’s a question I find a lot of people are intrigued by). How did that relationship develop?

Lykeia: Actually it did not come about directly. I was initially a sworn maiden to Artemis from the age 14 until 18. All I had asked is that when I had children that the birth be quick and they be girls (on my third child I ended up changing my mind and petitioned Her with offerings to have one boy lol). Apollon did not enter my life until I was in my mid 20s. I joke and say often that She was preparing me for Him. My first experiences of Him were very raw and intense like a consuming fire. The Daphne myth was a very poignant one for me…that run instinct. Never had I felt something that direct in divine touch. It didn’t take me long to relish and celebrate those moments and then eventually surrender and devote myself to Him utterly.

GK: What would you tell someone looking to develop a relationship with Apollon devotionally? What do you feel are the key components to devotion?

Lykeia: First I would say examine your motivation. Are you wanting a devotional relationship out of direct experience and genuine pull to the god? Or are you seeking to get something out of it in particular. Be honest with yourself. There is nothing wrong with the latter scenario of devotion but in it you need to be clear as to your obligations in turn and DO IT. Cassandra is quite a good warning on that end. Also realize that being His isn’t going to necessarily make you an instant oracle…His domain is vast and you may have skills related an entirely different part. Everyone seems to want to be an Oracle though…except me. I just divine for my family lol.

GK: People wouldn’t want to be oracles, I warrant, if they knew what it entails. Now I know from following you on facebook and from our private conversations that you are looking into Etruscan practices and Deities. Why? What prompted that? How do you see it intersecting with your devotion to Apollon (or don’t you)?

Lykeia: Heh at first the Etruscan thing was nothing more than a “hey that is interesting” footnote to my ancestry. It wasn’t until when I was having divination done on an entirely unrelated note that the “look you need to focus on Etruscan stuff came through”. I put it on a mental burner and half forgot about it until another unrelated divination months later repeated it a bit more insistently. Well that made me pay attention, finally. I didn’t initially want it as it is hard to revive and gets poo-pooed by some who don’t understand why to even bother since we don’t have primary sources from them. Yet there is a LOT we are given by their very close Roman neighbors. Not to mention considerable archaeology so it is not as daunting as I feared. Hellenic polytheism just spoiled me a bit lol. As for Apulu…actually given that Apollon was borrowed from the Hellenes at a very early period it actually is in line with how I perceive Apollon and relate to Him in His early form a seasonal wolfish herding god of storms and plagues. So it has taken no significant adjustment outside of getting used to the name Apulu.

GK: You’re a vibrant artist and your work has been featured on several of my own prayer cards — thank you for that by the way. I do appreciate you allowing me to make them. Is this a devotional practice for you? Where does your inspiration for this work come from?

Lykeia: Thank you! And it’s certainly my pleasure to be helping out! Honestly I address the deity and stare at the canvas until inspiration comes. Sometimes this helped by reading on Them before hand…or even walking away. I can’t tell you how many times inspiration has hit while in the shower LOL! But it is quite devotional. It is part of my task from Apollon this relegation of the gods through art and poetry in parallel to oracle work others do.

GK: How do you balance having a family and doing the intense level of devotional work that you do?

Lykeia: It is not easy. As it is until I can get my business off the ground I work 3rd shift. This means I get a couple hours sleep in the morning before the kids wake up…and a couple hours in the evening after my husband gets home. I fit devotion around how the kids are behaving. If they won’t be too wild I bring them in the worship room…otherwise I wait for nap time. I have much more flexibility on my weekend! I can actually have private time in there!

GK: Because I”m a shit stirrer: what are your thoughts on raising your children polytheistic?

Lykeia: I think it is very necessary. It informs how they view the world and their relationship to it and those deities and spirits that occupy it. My eldest daughter was raised polytheistic and even though right now she is going through a period of personal focus the gods still make sense to her and impact how she relates to others and the world. My youngest children have the benefit of me having a more developed relationship with my gods and practices of worship and devotion. I was only 19 when I had my eldest and I was still working stuff out as I have mentioned. My babies are taught the names and told the myths. As they get older they will participate in offerings like my eldest did.

GK: I’ll admit to having no patience with Pagans or Polytheists who refuse to raise their children in their faith. How else are we expected to restore our traditions? It’s little enough to give back to the Gods. So it delights me every time I see a devout parent passing that on to his or her child. To continue though, what projects are you working on now? Where can people find your work?

Lykeia: I am working on so many things. I have two different booklets in the works. One deals with his maternal family and serpent symbolism. The other focuses on the herding wolfish Apollon and directs focus too to his relationship with Hermes and Dionysos. I have a novena almost ready to come out. The big project is the Book of Days, a 365 day litany of Apollon with brief mini discussions one can meditate on. I am hoping it will be ready by the autumn sometime. Artistically I am always working on something new. My current big project is to finish up the portrait of Apollon with his maternal family. I am also working on as donation to the Temple of Aphrodite two large paintings that will go in their temple when it has a roof. I kind of just go where inspiration directs me. Most of my original work, prints and products an be found at lykeiabotanica.com or at my etsy store.

GK: Thank you, Lykeia. Those sound like amazing projects and I know I”ll be picking a couple of those books up. Folks, check out her shop and if you don’t see anything you like, email her. She does take commissions.

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Be sure to check out my other sites:

Wyrd Curiosities at Etsy

My academia.edu page

My amazon author page.

Walking the Worlds Journal

My art blog at Krasskova Creations

My blog about all things strange, weird and medieval.

And if you like what you see, consider becoming a sponsor at Patreon.

Polytheistic Voices: Interview with Kenaz Filan

kenaz portraitI’ve known Kenaz for years so it was a pleasure doing this interview recently for this series. Like me, Kenaz straddles the line between two polytheistic traditions: Voudoun and the Northern Tradition. The Gods do send us down some interesting roads. He’s written several books including “The Power of the Poppy,” and (with Raven Kaldera) “Dealing with Deities,” and “Drawing Down the Spirits.” Thank you, Kenaz for agreeing to participate in this interview.

GK: Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you come to polytheism?

Kenaz: I was interested in magic and the occult for as long as I can remember. From my early 20s onward I was involved in Ceremonial Magic and Neopaganism. Because I have also long felt an affinity for darker Cthonic energies I became involved in Satanism and Goetia. Had I been born 30 years earlier I’d be what the kids today call an “Edgelord.” I found Chaos Magic thought-provoking at times and loved the intellectual aesthetic of Ceremonial Magic – but I never felt comfortable reducing the Gods to thought-forms, archetypes or things that only existed between my ears. I always knew there was Something Else there and that They were worthy of worship. I also never bought into the idea of a Golden Age when the Gods walked among us. I felt like They were as present now as They were 10,000 years ago and that They still had an interest in us: They did not cease to exist when we stopped worshipping them any more than a rock disappears when you turn your head.

While I have always felt compassion for the poor and disempowered I have never been particularly egalitarian. An important part of our American psyche is that all men are created equal before the law. There has been considerable debate about what that means. For me it means whatever your social class or lifestyle choices all citizens should be given a chance to achieve to the best of their abilities; that all accused of a crime deserved a fair trial before an impartial jury; that all should be treated with respect and courtesy until they prove undeserving of same. (I understand that we rarely live up to these tenets, but that reflects more poorly on us than them). But I also understood that people were not equal. Strength, intelligence, skill, passion, piety – these things were not evenly distributed among humanity. Neither did I have a problem that there were some people who were Called (had a Vocation in the language of my Roman Catholic youth) to the Priesthood while others served the Divine by living their lives honorably and doing your duty to your family, your community and your Gods.

In 1994 I had a psychotic break that left me homeless on the streets of Manhattan for several months. During that time I made contact with a spirit that called Himself “Legba” and who told me, among other things, that I would become a Vodou initiate. At the time I thought this impossible: in March 2003 I was initiated as Houngan Coquille du Mer in Societe la Belle Venus #2 of Brooklyn, New York by Mambo Azan Taye (Edeline St-Amand) and Houngan Si Gan Temps (Hugue Pierre). Since then I have continued to serve the lwa and much of what I have learned in Vodou has influenced my way of dealing with my ancestral Gods. Then, in 2004 Loki showed up and, unsurprisingly, things got very … interesting.

One of the defining moments in the modern Polytheistic revival was Kenny Klein’s arrest on child pornography charges. The Pagan community’s response to that left me – and just about everybody else in the community who identified as a Polytheist – furious and disgusted. I realized then that contemporary Neopaganism’s atheism and relativism were fatal flaws which have real world consequences. I ceased to identify in any way as part of the Neopagan community and began calling myself a Polytheist – and many other Polytheists did the same thing. Today’s Polytheism shares very little with modern Neopaganism: we certainly don’t share our Gods. I’d say we have become a different religious tradition but it’s more accurate to say that we have become a religious tradition since what they are doing owes more to psychotherapy than theology.

GK: You’ve been a staunch defender of Loki over the years (something that I particularly appreciate). Can you tell me a little bit about your devotional relationship with HIm?

Kenaz: My first experience with Loki started as a meditation on Freyja as I attempted Seidhr: instead of finding myself in the presence of Freyja I found myself in the cave. Since that time Loki has been a constant presence in my life. I followed His instructions when he told me to live for several years as a woman. I believed Him when He told me that I would have a child even though the hormones should have rendered that impossible. And in return Loki has brought nothing but blessings into my life, including the greatest gift of all – my daughter, Annamaria Sigyn Estelle Filan. I am eternally in His debt: speaking up on His behalf when he is wronged is the least I can do to acknowledge all He has done for me.

Most Loki-detractors make several fundamental errors about the nature of pre-Christian practices in northern Europe. The idea of “Lore” owes more to Protestant sola scriptura than to tradition. It prioritizes the work of Snorri Sturluson, an Icelandic Christian, over the disparate practices of a region which stretched from northern Scandinavia to the banks of the Volga River. It gives the Eddas a Scriptural authority which Sturluson never intended: it also anachronistically applies the Manichean “Good/Evil” axis to traditions which (unlike Christianity) were never touched by Manicheanism or by any other Gnostic tradition. There were certainly evil wights and evil men in the myths of northern Europe. The Gods could be benevolent, hostile or some combination thereof depending on the situation. But there was no idea of an elemental Evil or of an infernal Adversary eternally warring with the Divine and with humanity: Loki was never a “Nordic Satan” any more than Odin became a “Nordic Christ” because he hung on Yggdrasil.

I identify Loki with Lóður and with the force which makes the blood flow and which animates our world. I believe there may also be some cognate between “Lok” and the low German gelücke from whence our word “luck” derives. I don’t think it is a huge stretch to identify Loki with a generally benevolent but unpredictable bringer of blessings and good fortune. And given how Loki appears in almost every story preserved in the Eddas, I think He was a major God within the traditions of northern Europe. I also think His binding is one of the major myths of our Lokean tradition. His long agony on the rock and the eternal fidelity of His wife Sigyn are powerful if painful foci for meditation and contemplation. And while it sometimes seems that for every step forward we take a dozen steps back into Lokiswives of Tumblr, I am confident that we are seeing the birth of a Loki cultus which will survive and thrive long after we are gone.

GK: Late 2016 you started the rather controversial website polytheism uncucked. What prompted that? What is it’s focus? What do you intend /hope to accomplish here?

Kenaz: Polytheism Uncucked started out with tongue firmly in cheek. After Rhyd Wildemuth declared that Paganism was under attack from the shadowy forces of the Alternative Right, I figured I might as well be the devil they claimed me to be. But as I continued studying I began to understand that I am the product of European culture and a child of the European Diaspora. I realized that to honor the Gods of Europe I needed to protect my ancestral European homeland and my European brothers and sisters. And so I began talking about impolite topics like the Islamization of Europe and the plight of poor White America. I began speaking out against AntiFa thuggery and pointing out the deleterious effects of Postmodernism and Cultural Marxism on our art, culture and interpersonal relationships. Which means, at least to some people, that I became the worst sort of racist. (Insert pearl-clutching here).

Parenthood also played a major role in my “Dark Enlightenment,” “Redpilling,” or political development as you prefer. We live in a working -class area of Newark where we are an ethnic minority. We have never experienced any problems and our Black and Latino neighbors have never been anything but kind and helpful. But when they look at us they see White people: our roots and our culture share many commonalities, but there are also many differences. And so I began wondering what it meant to be White for us and for Annamaria, and realized White was something more than an absence of Color.

Necessity and desire drove our ancestors from their homes: history transformed them into White Americans. We are the European diaspora; we are Europa’s children; we are part of a process that was ancient when the first English settlers landed on Plymouth Rock and part of a people who are committing demographic and literal suicide. Those who came before us may have done great evil but they also did great good. We have lessons to learn from their triumphs as well as from their mistakes. And in any event we have a responsibility to honor our ancestors not because they were good or because they were triumphant but because they are our ancestors.

Vodou, Lukumi and other African Diaspora traditions preserved African religious traditions through the horrors of the Middle Passage and slavery. I believe folkish Heathenry is one means by which we can honor our European Gods and work to preserve our European identity and our European culture. This has nothing to do with disparaging the ancestry of others: it is, rather, about honoring our own. “Woke” Black people and White people have a great deal in common. Both wish to preserve their culture; both place enormous importance in the family and community; both know their people face enormous challenges like poverty, unemployment, violence and despair; both believe the solution to their communities’ problems will only be found within their communities; both believe a spiritual awakening is a necessary precedent to any material improvements. The answers to our problems lie not in eternal conflict and hatred but in mutual respect. “Different” does not have to mean hostile.

GK: Now how do you balance working in two traditions (I do as well): Norse and Voudou?

Kenaz: Vodou is the central pillar of my practice: I use so much of what I learned about approaching the Lwa in my service to Europa’s Gods. My wife (also a Mambo) and I have both had the maryaj lwa: we abstain from sex on Tuesday through Thursday in honor of our divine Spouses (Ezili Freda and Danto for me: Ogou, Damballah and Zaka for her). We have shrines for the Rada, Petwo and Ghede in our home: we have Legba standing at the door to protect us from evil and bring in blessings. I have refrained from writing publicly about Vodou for some time, but that is only because I wanted to make space for Haitians to document their own faith. Right now there are several open Haitian houses were people can be initiated and learn how to serve their lwa: Haitian and Haitian-American artists and academics like Hersza Barjon, Claudine Michel and Patrick Bellegarde-Smith are writing books on the subject. I have 15 years as a Houngan: these people were raised in the culture and have far more to teach than I do. My services in that arena are no longer required: there are better people out there for the task.

By contrast, the contemporary Polytheist movement is in its infancy. We are still building that community and defining what it means to be a Polytheist. (See the ongoing flap about “archetypal Polytheists,” otherwise known as “Neopagans who want to call themselves Polytheists”). I am focusing my attention there for now as I feel that is where it is most needed. There is an enormous hunger for the Gods in our culture, a burning desire for something more meaningful than hollow materialism and blind nihilism. We are a society riddled with impietas: our relationships with our Gods, our communities, our families and ourselves have all gone off the true. The center no longer holds and things are falling apart.

Our only chance is to establish islands of piety amidst the spiritual pollution and to work to right those imbalances – to re-establish what the Romans called pietas. I believe that when we do that we will discover there are many others who are seeking desperately for what only the Gods can give them. Make a fitting place for the Gods and fitting priests who serve Them properly and They will do the rest. That is the public task to which I have set myself: to lead Europa’s children back to Europa’s Gods.

GK: what advice would you give newcomers to polytheism?

Kenaz: The Gods are many, the Gods are real, the Gods are here. Everything else flows from that.

Many people will tell you that you are crazy, that you are delusional, that you are taking this too seriously. This includes many people who claim to be serving the Gods but who are really engaging in psychodrama or in an elaborate live-action roleplaying game. Real piety terrifies them: it implies the Gods they use for window dressing might be real, and might make real demands of them. Their input is less than useless and should be ignored.

This is not a contest. Ordeal workers, horses and Godspouses are neither better Polytheists nor better people simply by their office. The most important task facing every Polytheist is to honor the Gods and to live a life befitting Their worshippers. A sincere prayer offered in gratitude is a greater gift to Them than an agonizing Ordeal performed only to impress the crowd. Ask what the Gods want you to do, then do it. Sigyn assuages Loki’s pain with a battered bowl: your simple life and your humble tools may do greater service for the Gods than you could ever imagine. Live for the Gods and you will live a Godly life.

I have heard many variants of the question “so what does a Spirit-Worker get out of this?” The answer is simple: you get to live your life in the constant and knowing presence of the Gods. There is no greater reward.

GK: What do you consider the most important elements of praxis?

Kenaz: Repetition is very important. The ancient world set its calender by seasons of worship. When you establish a regular cycle of service for your Gods, you create an axis around which your world can revolve. Your “mundane” tasks – I put that in quotes because in Polytheism there are no mundane tasks: every word, deed and thing is infused with the Gods – become part of your ongoing encounter with the Divine. Serve the Gods even when you don’t feel like it, even when you don’t see the point, even when you doubt Their very existence. In time you will internalize this service and it will become second nature to you: you will know Their presence in your heart and in your bones.

GK: There’s an old Russian saying that “repetition is the mother of learning” and I have certainly found that true, most especially in spiritual work.

Kenaz: Cleansing is vital. We live in a society that is full of miasma, where piety is conflated with fanaticism and delusion, where blasphemy is lauded and reverence is scorned. If we don’t cleanse ourselves from that spiritual sewage we will inevitably choke on it. I start and end my day by washing my head, breast, solar plexus, genitals and feet and praying that the Gods may take away that which pollutes me: I would recommend that every Polytheist do something similar. When you start doing this you will become increasingly aware of miasma and be able to either avoid or deal with it as the situation warrants.

Understand that your life is an ongoing prayer. The Christians who ask”What Would Jesus Do?” are onto something. When you live in the constant presence of the Gods you find yourself asking how They might feel about a particular course of action. This is not the “super friends” relationship you see in too much Tumblr spirituality – the kind where Loki is a whacky neighbor and Odin trades off with Dr. Who in telling you about your Important Cosmic Destiny. Rather it is the knowledge that you stand before the Creators and Shapers of Being and the deep understanding of how you should carry yourself before Them. Colored by this understanding, your life and your spiritual practice cannot help but move toward greater piety and balance.

GK: What projects do you currently have in the works?

Kenaz: I continue to work on Polytheism Uncucked and am toying with the idea of writing Europa’s Children: Toward a White American Polytheism. I would like to create a framework whereby Europa’s children can honor Europa’s Gods and recognize their role and responsibility as members of the European Diaspora. I would also like to see an American cultus which would allow Americans of all faiths, ethnicities and political leanings to honor the American spirit and America’s gods in the same way citizens of the Roman Empire venerated the Gods of Rome and the Roman government. And I continue in the most important project of all – raising Annamaria to be a happy and healthy child and teaching her to serve and honor our Gods.

GK: thank you, Kenaz. Folks interested in reading more of Kenaz’s work can check out his two blogs here and here.

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Be sure to check out my other sites:

Wyrd Curiosities at Etsy

My academia.edu page

My amazon author page.

Walking the Worlds Journal

My art blog at Krasskova Creations

My blog about all things strange, weird and medieval.

And if you like what you see, consider becoming a sponsor at Patreon.

Shrine pictures

After running about making various offerings to Hermes, I spent the rest of the morning redoing my Hermes shrine, and my Loki and Sigyn shrine. 

feb-25-2017-hermes-shrine-new

Hermes’ place. ^

feb-25-2017-loki-sigyn-shrine-new

Loki and Sigyn’s place.^

The icon above is by Grace Palmer, and belonged to my mom Fuensanta. 

When Pollution Finds You

The topic this week has been miasma and pollution and how to deal with it. I’ve a longer piece in progress that I was hoping to get done today but that didn’t happen so it’ll probably have to wait until next weekend now. Instead, I find myself thinking a lot about a slightly different aspect of miasma. Most of us within our various traditions (hopefully) have our standard regimens of cleansing before rituals, before approaching our shrines, or after encountering something that carries miasma. What do you do though, when you suddenly and unexpectedly bumble into pollution or realize – oh shit—you’re surrounded by it?

I’ve had this happen a lot because of my work and I started really paying attention to it over the past couple of months. I’ve noticed, both in myself and others, that it can have an immediate (spiritual, emotional, mental, and sometimes physical) effect. What do you do when you read something or see something or engage in some way (either in person or online), or walk into an area that carries or causes unexpected miasma? What do you do when you are, or instance, engaged in a debate and you realize that you’re dealing with a massive amount of pollution? Often it’s not tenable or even possible to withdraw and cleanse. What do you do when you are stuck?

I’m still working this out for myself. I mean, obviously, I have regular cleansing regimens, and then the tradition specific stuff that I do before rituals or tending shrines and for a long time that was enough. I almost think though, that the more we work to be clean, the more this is a priority, the cleaner we become, the more sensitive we get to that which is not clean. Things that perhaps were not a problem a year ago, might become problematic after that intervene time focusing on cleansing. So what do you do?

Right now – and I’m still working on this—I have a two fold approach. First, I have a very specific prayer that I wrote that I use when I find myself stuck or surprised by miasmic things. Secondly, I carry holy water and spritz the fuck out of myself at times. Right now that’s about it, but I hope to develop this type of troubleshooting further. I’d love to hear people’s ideas.

Here’s the prayer that I use. When I asked to which God I should offer the prayer, (I venerate the Norse Gods and the Greco-Roman Ones), I was told Apollo. I wasn’t thrilled with sharing it but I did divination and was told that it would be best to do so, so here it is.

Purification Prayer to Apollo

Holy Lord, cause my skin to crawl away from every evil thing.*

Bright Apollo, far shooting God of healers and prophets,
I offer this prayer to You today.

Holy Lord, cause my skin to crawl away from every evil thing.

Most Holy Apollo,
Klarios, Oulios, Alexikakus,
Who averts all harm,
protect me, oh my God.

Holy Lord, cause my skin to crawl away from every evil thing.

In Your Presence, oh my God,
nothing impure may stand.
In Your Presence, oh my God,
nothing impious may find purchase.

Holy Lord, cause my skin to crawl away from every evil thing.

Shining Horios,
keep my boundaries strong,
that no pollution may affect my mind,
my heart, my soul, my work.
Boedromios, preserve me,
as I wade into this filth.

Holy Lord, cause my skin to crawl away from every evil thing.

I lay my petition before You, Shining God,
that I may stand in the light of Your protection.
To You, Lord Apollo,
I pray.

 

(*this line is every so slightly adaped from the song “Sparrow Falls” by David Eugene Edwards)

On Pollution and Miasma

A friend sent me a clip from an article that had me just shaking my head. In it, a Pagan was talking about pollution and why she never “needed” to do any cleansing work. Doing so, the misguided author said, would imply that she was dirty.

Um…yes, buttercup it does but this is not a moral judgment. When you take a shower in the morning or a bath at night, is that some grave moral judgment on your inner sense of self? Or your character? Your identity? When you wipe your ass, are you saying your butt is bad? One would hope that you actually do take those showers and wipe. I mean really…and if you clean your ass, as my friend quipped, you can take the time to clean your soul.

This is going to be an ongoing theme. I’ve had a lot of questions lately about miasma. I’ve gained a few insights through my own deepening taboos around purification, been thrown for a few unexpected loops, and I’ve been seeing a lot of really screwed up pieces, like the bit I quoted above making the rounds. I’m not even sure where to begin here.

Miasma is a thing. It exists. It is not a statement about the character or worth of any given person. In fact, in most cases, it’s no more personal than spilling something on yourself and having to wash it off, or tracking mud inside, and having to clean it up. To say that one doesn’t need to cleanse is exactly as sensible as saying one never needs to bathe, that is not at all.

Miasma is a type of spiritual pollution. One can pick up miasma by exposing oneself to things that are antithetical to the Gods and Their traditions. These things can shift a person’s head and heart space out of receptivity and reverence for the Gods. They can also leave a taint. Over time, it destroys our ability not just for any discernment with the Powers and spirits, but even our ability to tell what is good and holy from that which is not. That’s one of the dangers of pollution and our world is riddled with it.

Sometimes though one falls into miasma through actions or experiences that are good: for instance there is a particular miasma associated with the dead. That’s why if one touches a dead body, cleansings are necessary before approaching one’s shrines. Well, visiting the graves of relatives is a good and pious act sanctioned by the Gods. The moment one does so, however, one is in a state of pollution and should really cleanse after returning home. Likewise, there is miasma associated with childbirth. Does that mean that everyone should stop having babies? Of course not. It means one learns the appropriate protocols within one’s tradition and uses them.

These purification rites can also be a form of psychological catharsis, helping one to make transitions back into ordinary life. Imagine how much better off our soldiers would be if they had these kinds of transitional and purifying ceremonies to guide their entrance back into civilian life? Instead, we just leave them in the gutter.

Proper piety is important. It is what enables us to maintain right relationship with our Gods. That’s a huge part of why we should want to be clean! Moreover, extended miasma can cause mental, emotional, and even physical problems, not to mention damaging one’s luck. Of course, this presupposes that one values being in right relationship with the Holy. This is where it starts. It presupposes that this is a priority, that we’re willing to examine our culture and society and interactions and influences and take action when miasma is present.

Now just because a thing causes miasma, does not mean it has to be avoided. Some things are only miasmic with certain types of worship, and with certain deities, or for roles and types of work (ancestor work vs plant work, shaman vs. seer vs. laity—there will be different taboos and requirements). Sometimes when you’re called to work with certain Powers and do certain work, that cuts off certain opportunities. That’s too bad. That’s just the nature of devotion. It’s possible to appreciate from a distance without being able to engage.

Sometimes what we read or watch may cause miasma. It affects our headspace. It puts us in headspace that’s not conducive to interaction with the Holy. This is a bit trickier. No one should tell you not to watch or read something. That’s a decision you have to make for yourself with your Gods and ancestors. Divination can help with this. We don’t want to be, after all, like the Abrahamists who fence themselves off from life and authentic experiences with all their rules and regulations, afraid to read a novel for fear it will destroy their faith. Sometimes also, depending on one’s work, one might have to read things or watch things or go places that put one in a state of miasma. Here, it’s important to sit down maybe with a diviner or priest and suss out how to cleanse oneself, what rituals and prayers to do, to restore oneself to cleanliness. (Just because a particular book or movie might put you out of alignment, doesn’t mean it’s ‘bad’. It might not affect someone else the same way, especially if they’re working with very different Powers and traditions. The key is mindfulness and being willing to consider that even things we like may be problematic and require those extra ritual steps or even forgoing gratification in service to something Higher).

Now I’ve noticed something about the people chirping the loudest about how cleansing isn’t necessary. All of the ones I’ve encountered have been anti-theist or humanist ‘Pagans.’ I think that is perhaps the key here. This is a clash of cultures and traditions. Do you serve the ancestors or political ideology? Do you want to reverence the Gods with your entire life or some human economist? Is this real or is it just something people make up in their heads? Do you value the Holy, or are you hell-bent on convincing the pious that it doesn’t exist (generally by trolling them online)? Those espousing a disdain for cleansing and purification are more often than not, those expressing a similar disdain for the Gods and everything else associated with Them. I’ll let y’all do the math. (If Stalin says that 2+2=5, the party believes that 2+2=5).

What I know is that cleansing is crucial. There is a caution here: against what Christians call scrupulosity. We should attend to all the proper rites and rituals for dealing with pollution, but not fall into obsessiveness or excessive anxiety over it—what the Greeks termed δεισιδαιμονίᾳ.

“It is apparent that superstition would seem to be cowardice with regard to the spiritual realm. The superstitious man is one who will wash his hands and sprinkle himself at the Sacred Fountain, and put a bit of laurel leaf in his mouth, to prepare himself for each day. If a marten should cross his path, he will not continue until someone else has gone by, or he has thrown three stones across the road. And if he should see a snake in his house, he will call up a prayer to Sabazios if it is one of the red ones; if it is one of the sacred variety, he will immediately construct a shrine on the spot. Nor will he go by the smooth stones at a crossroads without anointing them with oil from his flask, and he will not leave without falling on his knees in reverence to them. If a mouse should chew through his bag of grain, he will seek advice on what should be done from the official diviner of omens; but if the answer is, ‘Give it to the shoemaker to have it sewn up,’ he will pay no attention, but rather go away and free himself of the omen through sacrifice. He is also likely to be purifying his house continually, claiming that terrible Hecate has been mysteriously brought into it. And if an owl should hoot while he is outside, he becomes terribly agitated, and will not continue before crying out, ‘O! Mighty Athena!’ Never will he step on a tomb, nor get near a dead body, nor a woman in childbirth: he says he must keep on his guard against being polluted. On the unlucky days of the month– the fourth and seventh– he will order his servants to heat wine. Then he will go out and buy myrtle-wreaths, frankincense, and holy pictures; upon returning home, he spends the entire day arranging the wreaths on statues of the Hermaphrodites. Also, when he has a dream, he will go to the dream interpreters, the fortune-tellers, and the readers of bird-omens, to ask what god or goddess he should pray to. When he is to be initiated into the Orphic mysteries, he visits the priests every month, taking his wife with him; or, if she can’t make it, the nursemaid and children will suffice. It is also apparent that he is one of those people who go to great lengths to sprinkle themselves with sea-water. And if he sees someone eating Hecate’s garlic at the crossroads, he must go home and wash his head; and then he calls upon the priestesses to carry a squill or a puppy around him for purification. If he sees a madman or epileptic, he shudders and spits into his lap.” (Theophrastos, On The Superstitious Man)

Being a polytheist isn’t about having the right hashtags or even necessarily about believing in many Gods. Believing in many Gods is the baseline, the fundamental definition, but we should aspire to so much more. Being a polytheist is also about cultivating in ourselves the type of awareness and character that the Gods would find pleasing. To do that, first and foremost, we must cultivate purity and an awareness of the nature of miasma and a willingness to attend to it. Then and only then, can we begin to cleanly and properly commune with the Holy.

Why Couldn’t Cybele Just Restore Attis’ Dick?

Why Couldn’t Cybele Just Restore Attis’ Dick? This is an actual conversation that I’m having with a Christian relative. (#polytheistproblems). This relative asked to read the papers that I’d written over the last semester so I printed them up, per her request and sent them off. Foremost amongst them was my recent article in issue 5 of Walking the Worlds: “Ecstasy and Identity in Catullus 63. This piece talks about Attis sacrificing his manhood in devotion to Cybele and what that meant to him (her?) as a Roman.

Here is the email I received in response:

“G., I just finished reading this paper.  It is a wonderful example to everybody to avoid the occult. Messing with the so-called gods (actually demons) is dangerous physically and spiritually.  Attis totally destroyed himself in his 

ill advised “devotion” to Cybele. 

If Cybele is such a great and powerful “goddess,” why could she not have restored Attis’ manhood?  A devastating and true statement: You cannot go home again.  I believe that in many situations.”

(the rest of the email talked about another paper on Augustine so I didn’t quote it here. Nor did I point out to her that her comments about the Gods being demons isn’t even biblical. The bible after all, acknowledges other Gods.).

Now, this relative knows that I’m a polytheist but it’s like some mental tick. They just can’t help themselves from calling our Gods demons. Interfaith work at its finest, isn’t it? Interfaith work just has a polite veneer over this, but it’s still there.

So what did I respond?

“You took the article where I did not intend. I think it’s a powerful example of devotion. May Cybele be venerated forever. 

It also tells you that it’s a terrible thing to fall into the hands of a living God. 

As to why Cybele couldn’t restore his manhood: obviously She didn’t want to. That is the price of initiation into Her priesthood and Attis, despite his later existential pain, paid it willingly. 

Nor was Her religion “the occult.” It was an international religion openly practiced. It’s still practiced today — there’s a Cybellan monastery not far from me (well, three + hours). 

My article was not in any way meant to imply that She should not be venerated, but to point out that all transformations come with a price, that we must understand this when we plumb sacred Mysteries: that they transform, irreversibly.

Asking why Cybele didn’t restore Attis’ manhood is like asking why Jesus didn’t save all the martyrs. Did he not have the power to do so? Did he not care? Or was it more a case of not invalidating their sacrifice, devotion, and faith and the example they provided for the rest of their community. These are mysteries. It’s pretty foul to denigrate them.”

We disagree but I’m not going to suddenly punch this poor relative in the face. One can have decorum in such disputes. Still, this is the type of mental brainwashing with which we all must cope when we engage in interfaith dialogue. Here it is, in black and white. (#checkyourmonotheistprivilege). I have said before that I consider monotheism to be something of a mental illness. It eradicates a person’s ability to see reality and to function in a healthy society. You want to change all these problems we’re dealing with today? Reject the secular (which is really just monotheism taken to its natural conclusion) over-culture. (#fighttherealpatriarchy).

If you have any doubt about this, the situation going on with patheos right now is a good example of what happens when you’re around ‘tolerant’ Christians. They’ll keep you around so long as you’re making them money through your click bait titles and engineered community conflict but the second you turn on them and question their motives you’re gone.

It doesn’t come with a cool pussy hat, but this is the real revolution. (#makinghashtagswontbeenough)