Category Archives: Lived Polytheism
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.
Affiliate Advertising Disclosure
One of the key mysteries of our tradition is that of the runes. The word itself, rún, rúnar (1) means just that: ‘secret’ or ‘mystery.’ Our high God Odin (Oðinn) hung on Yggdrasil for nine nights and nine days in agony, pierced by His own spear, a sacrifice to Himself. The result of this ordeal was acquisition of the runes and the knowledge and ability to wield them. There is much the story doesn’t tell us, starting with where the runes originate, what they are, and what their connection to the fabric of creation might be.
I talk about all of these things in my book Living Runes, so I won’t focus on that too much in this post. In short, I think they originate in the Ginnungagap, are a family of living, sentient spirits, and are worked into the architecture of existence in numerous ways, creating loopholes through which the holy can seep (or work) again and again. When I think about this, they’re so often in motion, coursing through creation the way platelets, plasma, and blood cells course through our veins. They may rivet the more liminal parts of creation in place, or they may whirl and dance through the world working His will and their own. I think it varies and it’s something I’m still exploring in my own practice.
What I wanted to discuss today is one of the techniques that I employed when I was first learning how to really engage with the runes. This is also something that I give to my apprentices when they are learning the runes for themselves. Usually, this is done after one has initially met the runes through offerings and galdr – a round 1 of ‘getting to know you,’ shall we say. Once a student has passing familiarity with the runes, knows what they are, has maybe galdred a bit, or meditated with them, once he or she has his or her own devotional relationships to Gods and ancestors securely established (2), when that student is ready for the second round of in-depth engagement, this is what I have each of my apprentices do (and no, this isn’t in my book). I do this myself every now and again myself. One never stop learning after all!
Before I describe this, I want to offer one caveat. If you are going to do this, begin with Odin. He is Master of the Runes (Rúnatýr – God of the runes) and they are first and foremost His mysteries. Afterwards, next approach the Deity or Deities in turn to whom you are dedicated, Whom you would consider your fulltrui, Who hold the most significant place in your personal devotions. This is simply a matter of both protocol, and courtesy and respect.
Now, onto the exercise.
A). Make a list of the various Deities that you venerate or Whose insight you might be interested in gaining with respect to the runes. For instance, Odin, Frigga, Freya, Loki, Sigyn, Thor, Sif, Heimdall, Mani, Sunna, Sinthgunt, Eir. (Make your own list, starting with Odin. This is just an example, though it’s close to the list one of my apprentices recently employed).
B). Each night, meditate upon and galdr the same rune, first making offerings to one of these Deities, and then to the rune itself. So, start with Fehu. Set up a working altar or shrine, some place where you can make offerings to the rune of the night and to whatever Deity you’re approaching. If you have a personal household shrine (and if you’re doing this, you should (3)), you can go ahead and use that. The first night, make an offering to Odin. Offer prayers to Him and ask Him if He would be willing to teach you something about fehu. Make an offering to fehu itself, asking it if it would work with Odin and teach you something about itself. Then galdr the rune, meditate on it, write down your insights. Thank the two powers, Deity and rune invoked, and you are done for the night. Work through your list of Deities meditating on the *same* rune. When you’re done, move on to the next rune and go through the list again in the same order.
What you’re essentially doing is building your own book of correspondences as you engage in this process. I would also repeat this, either approaching the same Deities or perhaps with a new list (though always begin with Odin. He is the doorway to the runes in many respects), every few months. Be polite when you approach both Powers. You are not after all, entitled to Their wisdom. As with anything, the more polite you are, the more productive this is likely to be. Even having worked with the runes for close to thirty years, I still keep this in mind every time I approach them. At the end of your list, or even somewhere in the middle of it, do one night where you do NOT approach a Deity, but work only through the rune itself.
I stumbled on this process of approaching various Deities like this accidentally. I was having a bit of trouble with something and struggling to figure out how to work the rune I had decided to call upon. Completely unexpectedly, Sigyn sorted it out giving me an unexpected bit of insight. I thought, ‘wait. You know runes?’ Now, I shouldn’t have been surprised – She is a Deity after all –but when we have deeply personal devotional relationships with our individual Gods, it can be easy to forget that They are well, Gods. It can be easy to think that we know Them as we might know a friend down the way. We may indeed know a little given that relationships are mutual processes, but no matter how much experience we have in devotion to a Deity, THEY are always so much more.
One of the things that I really like about this particular exercise also, is that it allows the one doing it the opportunity to approach Deities he or she may not have previously considered approaching. It allows for a potential devotional relationship to bloom. It gets one out of one’s comfort zone, away from the regular way of doing things and allows room for unexpected insights to occur.
There are things to consider when you are engaging in this process: how does the rune feel? When you galdr, do you get any images running through your mind, any words popping up wanting to be worked into the galdr, any other sensory expressions of its presence (and that may include taste and smell too)? How do you feel before, during, and after? Has your impression of the rune changed at all? Do your best to keep a good record of this. It is helpful when you’re going back to check your progress. Be sure to stay hydrated and maybe eat a little protein after your nightly sessions. I would also be sure to center and ground well afterwards.
Finally, the futhark tells a story. Each Aett (4) contains its own mysteries. It is normal that some runes will prove harder and more difficult to access than others. That’s ok, and the reverse is also true. Most will have one or two runes stepping forward as a guide through the futhark and through one’s work therein. When you encounter a rune that just won’t open, that’s ok. Be respectful, do your best, make your offerings and come back to it later. There are runes (for me, mostly in the third aett) that have taken years before they allowed me to so much as dip a toe into their mysteries. Again, as with so much spirit-work, you’re building a relationship. Part of the process of learning to work with runes is that they are learning your mental patterns, internal language, internal symbol set and you are learning something of theirs and the two of you are building this pidgin (is that the correct linguistic term?) by which you can communicate. You’re learning each other’s language and building a shared syllabary through which you can productively communicate. That’s going to take time. Some things cannot be rushed.
Before I close, I want to take a moment’s focus on the first aett. As with our sacred texts, there are numerous ways that one can approach and interpret the narratives that we’re given. Since there are numerous patterns in the way the runes relate to each other, one can tell many stories. While these stories are not direct engagement with the runic powers, they are a means of conceptualizing and learning from them. They are doorways into each rune’s power. Here is a very brief way of reading through the first aett connectively. Fehu is the luck that flows through our blood (ancestral luck, hamingja), vitality, wealth, abundance, power. Like a sap through a tree or chlorophyll through a leaf, it flows through our veins and the veins of our soul body giving it life – just like Loður gave us sense-awareness and color, and the roaring pulse of our heart’s blood when the Gods created humanity. Uruz is raw power, maegen, the ability to tap into, access, and use one’s luck. It is initiation that awakens us to the Powers, challenge by which we earn the right to use what we have been given. Thurisaz is a challenge to focus, to discipline, to hone and temper our power. It’s the hard work we do to strengthen our spiritual and ethical muscles. It is the force that shatters our illusions, clears us out, devours what no longer serves, frees one – sometimes violently – from constraints, burns like napalm in the soul until we order ourselves rightly and leave our bullshit behind. (Edited 3/7 to include ansuz, as I was writing with a migraine and accidentally left one of my favorite runes out). Ansuz is divine inspiration, ecstasy (in the classical religious sense), surety and confidence in the Work. It is the touch of the Gods, grace that allows us to persevere in our spiritual becoming even when it is hard. It is the opener of the way, that, if we are working to become rightly ordered, will show us the way forward. Raido is movement, momentum, overcoming of obstacles, the progress made when we accomplish the first three runic lessons and are rightly ordered with the Powers, and the power by which we may find our way through any obstacles in the way of that. Kenaz is the torch, the hearth fire, the offering fire, a candle on a shrine, the light of knowledge, piety, and devotion. It is that which we have been given to tend, to keep fed and bright and warm (our devotion, our traditions). Gebo is the process of exchange between us and the Holy powers, the law by which we are called to live our lives, the pious sensibility underlying every positively ordered engagement with the Powers, and with each other. Wunjo is the fulfillment of fehu, pleasure and ecstatic awareness of the powers, perfection and glory, joy and transformative power. It is the sum total of the other seven runes in this aett. One cannot access the fullness of wunjo, without first accessing and understanding these preceding runes. Wunjo is also the mead of inspiration, of frenzy, of magic, of inspiration on every possible level. How will you drink of it, how will it shape itself to your mind and talents? It will enliven you for the work to come with the next aett, which takes us down immediately into the place of the dead. This is the foundational work one must do in order to access the Mysteries, in order to be of use to our Gods, in order to become functionally realized human beings. It is ongoing work, and the runes can reflect that, though they are also so much more (5). I would also stress that this is only one way of lightly tapping into their insights.
I’ll wrap this up for now. As all rune work begins with Odin, so too should it end with praises to this God Who had the will to win them.
Hail to the God of the gallows,
Terrible and unrelenting.
Hail to the Wyrd-riven Wonder-worker,
Who leaves ecstasy in His wake.
Hail to the Bale-eyed Beguiler,
with His whispered charms
and savage conjurings.
Hail to the Lord of Asgard,
Architect of the Worlds
Who breathed us into Being,
Eternally let us praise Him.
- These are the nominative and genitive singular forms respectively.
- It goes without saying that the runes are a specialty, as well as being a Mystery all their own, and not only does one not have to work with the runes to be a good Heathen, but those who don’t already have their spiritual houses, i.e. their devotional world, in some semblance of order, should not work with them. They are tools of magic and divination and it becomes very complicated, very quickly.
- Really, if you don’t have the most basic devotional space set up and active in your home, you’re not ready to work with the runes no matter how far along you think you are.
- This word just refers to a set of eight. There are three sets of eight that make up the elder futhark.
- They are sentient, amoral, non-human spirits. They have their own agendas and are allied to the All-Father Who also has His agenda. It’s healthy to never forget that.
I offer this prayer to Thor and to the Goddess Sif.
Hail to You, Holy Ones.
Hail to You, Protectors of Midgard,
Hail to You, Son of Odin and Hail to You,
His gleaming Bride.
You hallow and drive out all pollution.
You are mighty. There is no malignant force
that You cannot banish. There is no threat,
You cannot overcome.
You are magnificent and Your grace
protects me in the face of evil.
Mighty Thor, wise, compassionate Friend of humanity,
look upon us and wield Your hammer for our protection.
Gracious Sif, You Whose gentle touch causes the grain to grow,
please nourish us, restore us, and grant us the fortitude
to walk in alignment with the Holy Powers always.
Through Your blessings, may we grow strong in faith.
through Your blessings may we grow strong in devotion.
Through Your blessings, may we always resist impiety,
may we be nourished as the grain is nourished
under Your caring hands.
In times of peril, come to our aid, I pray.
In times of desperation, I place myself under Your care.
Hail Thor, Son of Odin.
Hail Sif, His Gracious Bride.
Our elders are the backbone of our traditions. Without elders, there is no tradition and certainly no clean, sustainable transmission of our traditions. There’s a trend now, largely from the Pagan left (no surprise there) to dismiss, erase, eradicate the contributions of our traditions’ elders, all the while reaping the benefits of the learning, traditions, and Mysteries those elders carry. People who spent and spend their lives pouring themselves out for their Gods are being excoriated and slowly pushed out of their traditions by those with little learning, less sense, and no humility at all. It’s really rather disgusting. It’s not surprising – I’ve seen the attitude before—but it is disgusting.
It also betrays a deeply flawed understanding of what tradition and lineage are and why they’re important. It speaks to modern discomfort with hierarchy and authority. It speaks to the quality of person modern Paganisms way too often draw, but it also speaks to a dearth of competent elders in some cases. An elder, however, can be “troublesome” without being wrong. A good elder knows better than to allow him or herself to move with the wind. Rather an elder stands strong and committed to service to the Holy Powers and Their traditions.
Should we have elders, prophets, diviners, etc.? Well that’s really up to the Gods isn’t it? And the Gods have, from time immemorial resounded with a clear and present YES. (This is particularly true in the case of prophets – the community has zero part to play in making a prophet. That is something the Gods alone do).
I am grateful to the elders in my world, living and dead. I am grateful for the doors they’ve opened, for their struggles, their hard work, their sacrifices.
Today I discovered that if you go to google and type in “Thor’s Mother” google will tell you that it’s Frigga – at least it did for me and my household. This is not correct. Thor’s Mother is the Earth Goddess Jörd. We have Marvel to thank for Google’s inaccuracy and oh does it piss me off (1). Pop culture, amusing though it may be, is all too often so polluting. It also inevitably caters to the lowest common denominator. It’s bad enough that one can’t do a search for “Odin” or “Loki” without Marvel images coming up. It makes me wish that our pop culture had just a little more piety, or even accuracy (2). Granted, this was a problem even in the ancient world. Even the Homeric corpus came under fire by certain philosophers for the impious way it treated the Gods. I think the difference is that then the dominant worldview was polytheistic and so piety was reinforced elsewhere. In our world, it’s attacked on every side (3). This makes the influence of pop culture far more significant than it otherwise would be.
I’ll admit, I like some aspects of pop culture. I just don’t base my personality and reason for being around it and I certainly don’t put it ahead of my devotion. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with enjoying a movie or game though. I think we just have to consider carefully what we want to give space to in our minds. What are we going to allow to take up mental and emotional space? What furthers our respect and reverence for the Gods and what doesn’t? What makes us better people and better devotees, and what chips away little by little at our piety? Every person has to make those determinations for him or herself and individuals will find that these things affect them each differently. The important point is to consider the media we take in, and to make conscious choices about it, because these things have long term consequences. They build habits of mind.
One of the problems with Marvel Thor is that we’re getting people coming into our traditions thinking that this nonsense is canon (and they are usually unwilling to self-correct) (4). There are Mysteries inherent in the relationships between our Gods, and that is all muddled and lost if one has the nature of those relationships awry. Secondly, it’s a matter of proper devotional respect. I don’t think we should encourage the erasure of any of our Holy Powers, which is what errata like this do, especially when we have people taking this as truth. Finally, how long until Marvel/Disney attempts to copyright or impose royalties on any use of “Thor,” even when that usage is devotional and not part of their shit franchise? Think I’m overexaggerating? I know several polytheistic artists who are also devotees of the God Hermes who have had to fight various professional art/sales platforms because the handbag company Hermes has laid exclusionary claim to the term, that term being the name of one of our Gods. This is when I start wanting to burn it all down.
Most disturbingly of all, a fellow-traveler on twitter commented that he’d seen the same type of thing with pop culture and newcomers to Hellenic polytheism and noted – quite accurately, I think – that it almost always goes hand in hand with a certain misotheism, hatred of the Gods. That’s the real and pressing problem, one already found throughout our communities far, far more than it ought to be.
So what to do? Horn and Hearth had THE best answer and it’s one that I will cherish: loud piety. On our blogs, in books, in song, in offerings, in the stories we tell, in videos, in shrine making, everywhere. Loud piety. I can be loud.
- Why can’t google note the disambiguation: Thor’s Mother- Norse Myths: Jord; Marvel movies: Frigga. I wouldn’t complain about that and this is standard practice in most other cases of disambiguation on google. Why wasn’t it done here?
- I’ll stop complaining about this when Marvel includes Jesus and Mohammed in the list of sacred figures they appropriate. Oh, but that won’t happen. Christians would complain and doing this with Mohammed might get people killed. Our community doesn’t care enough about its Gods in general to recognize the disrespect and long-term disadvantages inherent in such depictions. They’d rather pollute their minds unthinkingly in the name of fun. (Have fun but recognize that these things aren’t innocent. Approaching them and engaging consciously makes it much less likely that there will be any lasting negative imprint in our minds and hearts. I personally may not choose to watch Marvel movies but I acknowledge that they can be enjoyable. Just realize that consuming anything uncritically is dangerous to the integrity of our devotion.
- This is the case not just for polytheists but for monotheistic traditions too. The modern world is very hostile to any but the most negligible of devotions.
- I cannot tell you how many hits I get on my article “Freya is NOT Queen of the Valkyries.” I’m not sure where this fallacy started, but it has endured far beyond what it ought to have done.
Today is the feast day for one of our most beloved Sanctae, most beloved to me at least, because she was my adopted mom. She was also the most devout and pious person I have ever known. As her daughter, I can say that she centered me in reverence and piety, helped me to be a better devotee of my Gods, and helped me to become a better person, and she taught me a renewed joy in the grace of sacred service to Them. I know she helped others too and has continued to do so, as is the way of a saint, after her death. I usually write something about her on this day and on her birthday. I’ve been thinking about her a great deal over the last few weeks especially, though every day I ache for the loss of her.
As is my custom, this evening I made offerings at her shrine. There are prayers that I said, and prayers that I wished to make, many too personal to be shared here. Love and reverence, piety, and a very quiet discipline, that of doing what needs to be done even when it is inconvenient…those are the gifts I feel she poured into my heart and hands and I am deeply grateful. To be loved in this way, and to be challenged is a very precious gift. I know that the Gods placed me into her care and were They to do nothing else for the rest of my life, that gift, that tremendous gift would be enough. That They do more, always is a blessing beyond measure. She taught me to recognize the blessings of the Gods as they come, large, small, or in-between.
On this, her feast day, I offer this prayer:
May Fuensanta and all our sancti and sanctae be honored. May they be remembered. May we ever learn reverence at their feet. May we cultivate the discipline of piety. May we wrap ourselves in veneration, until our love of the Holy Ones becomes a fire that nothing may quench. Hail to Fuensanta Arismendi Plaza, devoted servant of Sigyn and Loki, and Hail to all our Gods. What is remembered, lives.
Christians call him the apostate. We – many polytheists across traditions—consider him a saint, and some, a martyr. Julian (331-363) was Roman emperor from 362-363. While raised a Christian, he returned to some type of Hellenic polytheism (one deeply steeped in Platonism) very early on, and during his all too brief reign, attempted to drive back the encroaching dominance of Christianity. (1). My particular favorite bit of legislation, which he did not live long enough to really see play out, was forbidding Christians from teaching classical texts. This would, had it been allowed to come to fruition, have barred them from the corridors of power, and more importantly from evangelizing and instantiating Christianity in those corridors of power (2).
Anyway, I’ve been thinking about Julian today and it occurred to me that I have a prayer card for him. To honor him, through Monday 9pm, I will give a free prayer card for Julian to anyone who emails me at Krasskova at gmail.com asking for one. Include your name and a mailing address. One per person.
May our sancti, sanctae, and martyrs ever and always be remembered.
What is remembered, lives.
- For Christians, this was not a good thing, but I would point out that whereas Christianity can exist, practice, and for the most part be left alone in polytheistic theology, the opposite has never been true.
- Christians understood this well. I think it’s rather comparable on a certain level to the way so many theology departments (I exclude Fordham, which has consistently been wonderful and welcoming) won’t even consider polytheists for their grad programs, often instead pushing them into religious studies (if they’re mentored at all).
Well, firstly, the Gods are always there. The question really should be, what do I do when I can’t sense or hear Them anymore?
This is an important question and a painful one. Those times will happen in the midst of the deepest devotion. Christian writers would call times like this a ‘dark night of the soul’, but it’s part and parcel of spiritual life that there are fallow times. If handled properly, which I’ll talk about in a bit, those times can be some of the most fruitful. Weird, right? (Also weird, or at least a nice bit of synchronicity, that I was in the middle of writing this, about halfway done, when it came up in a comments thread on one of my posts).
The first thing I would say right away is that with few exceptions (and those exceptions can be teased out via divination, since that is a sacred tool that we have at our disposal. Respect your diviners, people.) this is not punishment. It doesn’t happen because the Gods are angry. It doesn’t happen because you’ve done something wrong. Like anything else, there is a rhythm to our spiritual lives and that includes certain plateaus.
Secondly, fallow times can be extremely productive. They build our spiritual muscles, so to speak. It’s easy, after all, to engage devotionally when you’re getting feedback, even the feedback of just having a palpable sense that the Gods are *there*. It’s not so easy when that’s not happening. Here’s the thing though, we need to be able to do our devotion even when we’re not feeling the feedback partly because it’s not about us – we’re not owed constant pats on the head (and I know this looks harsh in print even to me, but I really don’t mean it that way. It’s perfectly natural to want to have that reciprocal sense of the Gods to Whom we’re devoted. There’s nothing at all wrong with that. Most people can’t sense Them as a general rule. When we can, every single time we can, it’s a grace and a blessing). Anything can disrupt that on our end. Maybe we’re tired, stressed, getting sick. Maybe we’re distracted. Maybe it’s a plateau that presages a time of deep spiritual growth. We’re never going to know unless we stay the course.
That’s the most important advice I can possibly give when one stumbles into one’s dark night of the soul: stay the course. Continue with your devotions. Make your offerings. Pray. Understand that just because at this moment, for whatever reason, you’re not sensing the divine Presence, well, that doesn’t mean the Gods are absent. It just means that, again, for whatever reason, you’re not able to sense Them at this time. I might increase my ritual cleansing regimen…miasma/spiritual pollution can gunk up our ability to sense the Holy, so I might make sure I’ve got everything under control there, but otherwise, I would not worry (1).
Longing is a powerful means by which to find one’s way to the Gods. Longing renews us and it renews our devotional connections. I think there is a mystery there to be untangled. There’s a powerful grace in coming to Them in utter longing for Their presence. Maybe that’s what these fallow times are meant, in part, to show us.
Regardless, if this happens to you, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad polytheist. Make sure you haven’t been neglecting your devotional work and prayer (I find the spiritual senses, much like physical muscles can become blunted through lack of use), but if all is in order there, continue as you have begun and trust your Gods. There is wisdom in the dark nights. We learn to cleave to Them in faith and surety if we persevere and that is a powerful thing. After all, when you can sense the divine Presence, it’s not really faith; it’s a special type of knowledge. The faith is a discipline that we need to develop too.
- While sometimes it is the result of one’s negative actions, miasma can be a purely neutral thing, simple consequence of one’s surroundings. For instance, it is right and proper to visit the graves of your ancestors and leave offerings. That’s a holy thing. When you do that, you’re exposing yourself to a particular type of miasma, of spiritual pollution. It’s not bad or evil. It just is. It’s a different state of being. Therefore, it’s necessary to cleanse that away when you get home (and in that case, I’d do it by ablution with khernips). One of the consequences of miasma is that it can interfere with our spiritual clarity. That’s why it’s so important to [spiritually] cleanse oneself regularly.