Category Archives: Lived Polytheism

Experiencing the Gods – a Reader Question

A reader asked me recently asking whether or not it was really possible to experience the Gods through our senses, to have some type of direct engagement, where we sense, hear, or see the Holy Powers, what is called theophany (from two Greek words: φαίνω “to see” and θεοί “Gods” and meaning essentially to see or perceive the Gods). It was a very good question and forms, I think, one of the most difficult chasms to cross from 20th century post-modernism into actual devotion, and certainly to the type of devotion that informed the world of our ancestors. For our ancestors, including our medieval Christian ones, it was acknowledged that one might experience the Gods via the senses (how else would one experience Them? Our sensorium is the way that we experience every aspect of our world, after all) (1). They set up temples where one could go to pray for dreams, developed mystery cultus to allow for cathartic experience of the Powers, and worked this awareness into their philosophies and literature (2).

I will preface this by saying that I think everyone who experiences the Gods directly does so a little differently and that’s because our brains are not wired to take in something that inhuman and immense. The experience, the Being, the Presence gets filtered through our consciousness, so if person x sees but person y feels or hears that’s a matter of their own inborn facilities/predilections (some people learn better visually, some by hearing, etc.) and how their brain is processing the stimuli. One modality isn’t better than the other. Now onto the actual question!

One thing that I realized with this question is that I didn’t come to Heathenry or even to polytheism unprepared. I had a very good devotional upbringing. I was encouraged to pray, to do novenas, the idea of “God” being able and willing to engage with devotees was not a foreign one so I never self-censored there. I didn’t close that off, the idea that engagement was possible, but I think like a muscle one might work at the gym, the facility to sense the Gods was actively developed through years of prayer and meditation and later shrine work, devotional work, study, etc. Also putting myself in space where it was more likely such contact might occur didn’t hurt, and a couple of years of ritual work further developed that awareness.

I think many times the Gods show Themselves not through the raw impact of visions or direct theophany but through small graces, gifts given through the natural world or one’s daily life and that is potent and powerful too. Learning to see all things as sharing in that connection, that capacity for engagement is important because if we are always looking for the big explosion of Presence that overwhelms, we may miss the small whisper of grace that opens. Both are important and maybe, just maybe it’s the latter that prepares one for the former.

I’ve argued with other spirit workers about whether or not the capacity to experience theophany is part of one’s inborn psychic or spiritual wiring or whether it is something that can be developed through consistent prayer, meditation, and devotional work. I default to the latter and perhaps that is because I was a priest long before I became a spirit worker. It’s also though that I have seen ecstatic ritual move people away from the tightly locked down headspace of their daily lives and into receptivity toward the Gods. I also think that saying one can only experience the Gods directly if one has the inborn talent for it negates the agency of the Gods in this equation, and without that agency no one is going to be experiencing anything!

As a spiritworker I have to say, don’t be upset or discouraged if you don’t immediately receive the feedback of direct experience. You are having experience just by engaging in devotional work and there is far, far more merit in doing that work without the bold and obvious interaction/theophany/etc. than in doing it solely to receive that. Pray without expectation without preconception and you will be opening all the doors of your heart and senses to the glory of our Gods. Besides, theophanies usually come with work. The Gods are there and will usually meet us more than half way if we but start in whatever fumbling capacity we can down the road of devotion. In the end, that’s all that matters.

Notes:

  1. Even in omens, prodigies and κληδόνες, the person receiving such a gift is experiencing that through their sensorium: sight, sound, smell, taste, touch.
  2. One of my favorite passages in the latter is found in the Virgil works in a powerful description of a priestess of Apollo being possessed by Her God:

“But the prophetess, not yet able to endure Apollo, raves in the cavern,

swollen in stature, striving to throw off the God from her breast;

he all the more exercises her frenzied mouth, quelling her wild heart,

and fashions her by pressure.”

At, Phoebi nondum patiens, immanis in antro
bacchatur vates, magnum si pectore possit
excussisse deum; tanto magis ille fatigat
rabidum, fera corda domans, fingitque premendo.

Virgil’s Aeneid, 6 77-83.

I love this description of possession because it so aptly depicts the partnership required and, while it’s been awhile since I’ve read the Aeneid in Latin, I believe in at least one other place, it’s actually described with vocabulary that conjures up the horse and rider paradigm that is used in modern Afro-Caribbean religions to describe the process of Deity possession, a metaphor that many polytheistic traditions use as well.

Note that the word that is here translated as ‘raves’ is ‘bacchatur’ and means to ‘behave in a bacchic manner,’ i.e. to be taken over completely in divinely inspired ecstasy, possibly violent ecstasy. It may also be translated accurately as ‘rave’ or ‘rant’.

I could have translated ‘fingit’ more as ‘tames’ rather than ‘fashions’ though either is an accurate translation. (this isn’t my translation — I’m not sure whose translation this is, but I liked it. I would probably translate it this way: “But, not yet fully opening to Apollo (or enduring Apollo, or allowing Him in, but the sense is that Apollo has not yet seated Himself fully on the prophetess because she is instinctively resisting), immense (vast) in the cave she raves, trying to drive out the great God from her breast; He exhausts her mad fury, taming her wild heart, instructing her by seating Himself fully (this is one of the possible poetic meanings of premendo).

So, just looking at this quickly before I hit ‘post’, I could make several choices in the translation and I’d probably have a half page of footnotes lol.

Handling Sacred Tools

Wynn recently asked, “Generically, what are the general requirements to handle sacral tools? Piety, cleanliness, and the ability to shield oneself from the tool/the tool from oneself?”

I love the way this question is phrased: “generically.” Why? Because the “requirements” will change depending on the Deity or Deities involved, the tool, the tradition, and even the person doing the handling (and their headspace, talents, etc.). The question also acknowledges that if there is an issue, that issue might just as easily be with the person handling the tool as with the tool itself. This too, is significant.

Now, I try to avoid handling my sacred tools indiscriminately. They are reserved for sacred work and as with all things that come into contact with the Holy, may carry that type of spiritual contamination. That’s an odd word to use with something holy, right? It is such a negative term in English but I don’t mean it to be so here. It simply is. When a person, place, or thing comes into contact with the Holy Powers in some way, I was taught that this effects an ontological change in that person, place, or thing. It changes them in a way that can affect others. As with any contact with the sacred, one should be prepared before that engagement.

This contamination carries over into spiritual technicians – spirit workers and shamans, orpheotelestai, etc. They carry the contagion of the holy. That’s a good thing, a renewing thing, but something that may have significant consequences as well. This is the first reason that a specialist’s sacred tools need to be carefully maintained and cared for (the second being simple respect for the Holy Powers). If someone is mentally or emotionally unbalanced, if they’re avoiding dealing with themselves, if they are going through a tumultuous patch, if they have hurts that they aren’t yet ready to examine…well, such contact as I was taught, can force the issue all by itself. It can destabilize, open everything up, force the addressing of things, and hopefully bring one through to the other side. This isn’t something a spiritworker, et al does consciously but rather a direct result of that sacred contamination. The goal of such a process is healing and coming into better, cleaner relationship with oneself and with the Holy Powers but I’ve seen it in action and it is … quite remarkable to see unfold. So, being picky about who might handle one’s tools is just a good best practice (1).

It’s important to recognize the sacred and its boundaries. That presupposes piety and respect, of course, but also an understanding of protocol and procedure and a willingness to follow it to the letter. Also, these are sacred tools (or regalia). They belong to the Gods and spirits in question and are used by the specialist. That warrants a bit of respect. They are extensions of the Holy Powers and Their sphere of influence, Their territory. That’s not something to mess about with lightly.

One thing to note as well is that you must be properly centered, grounded, and preferably shielded before you handle any of these tools. I have known people to become dizzy, nauseous, headachy, and even to slip deeply into an altered state just from being in physical proximity to a spiritworker’s tools and/or regalia. I make sure that my ground crew runs through these basic exercises thoroughly before we get to work for just this reason. I’d also have khernipsor Florida water, or some type of cleansing and purifying substance (2). It can help you, the spiritworker, and may be needed for the tool itself. I’d also recommend having silk gloves. I have found that silk insulates to a certain degree from these energies. I also keep organic linen on hand to wrap tools and regalia up in for the same purpose.

Energy is such a nebulous term in this context. When I use this word, what I mean is that through use, consecration, blessing, etc., the tools or regalia in question have become imbued with a tiny, infinitesimal rhythm/pulse/force/flow of the Deity’s Presence/power. As I noted above, it becomes an extension of Them, Their territory, Their sphere of influence (3). It is precisely for this reason that one cannot and should not treat sacred tools and regalia as one might regular clothing. Those things no longer belong solely to the practitioner.

So, when you are going to handle sacred tools, I would suggest praying, centering and grounding, and fully cleansing yourself first. This is good protocol for any ground crew. Remain mindful that you are dealing with sacred things and stay focused and you should be fine. This is part and parcel of what a ground crew does. After tending to the spiritworker, one of their main responsibilities is care for gear, tools, and regalia.

Aside from that, just being respectful and organized will go a long way.

 

Notes:

  1. One thing that I have rarely seen or heard discussed as a spiritworker is what to do with sacred regalia and tools after one’s death. I strongly advise every spiritual technician to put in his or her will clear instructions detailing who should receive those things, or what should be done with them. This may take a significant amount of negotiation and divination on the spiritworker’s part before this can be clearly worked out but not doing so can be disastrous. The numen contained within working tools and regalia can make non-spiritworkers ill if they are unprepared for it. The last thing you want is your sacred regalia turning up at a yard sale after your death. You’re responsible for any harm incurred from that, because it is within your power to make appropriate plans while alive.
  2. Khernips is a type of holy water used for purification and cleansing in Greek polytheisms. It is easy to make: take good, clean water and a bay leaf. Light the bay leaf on fire and douse it in the water. I usually offer a prayer to Apollo asking that through this union of opposing forces, fire and water, mediated by earth (the leaf), this substance be granted the power to purify.
  3. The same might be said of the specialist. They too become extensions of the territory and sphere of influence of the Gods they serve while in active service.

Coping with Conversion

After reading my last practicum post, Chase from Nevada asked a really good question and I said I would touch on it here. Chase asked, “Quick question for you regarding the conversion from Christianity to Heathenry: what are some of the key things one is able to do to make that transition a bit smoother?”

This is a great question, but one that doesn’t have a single clear cut answer. Firstly, understand that it is a transition. Conversion is a process. It doesn’t happen all at once. It’s not a matter of waking up one day deciding that today is the day and from now one you’re Heathen. Even if you are deeply devoted to your new Gods, even if you have committed to practicing your new religion and are doing your absolute best to learn what you need to learn and to root yourself in the practices that will serve you best from the get-go, problems –issues—may still arise. Truly changing everything from one religion to another can take years of careful, mindful work. There’s a deconstruction mentally that has to occur. Give it that time! It’s important to do this carefully and cleanly because it can be a messy and painful process sometimes. Now, this is an intense and weighty topic, too much to cover in one blog post, but I’m going to hit a couple of what I consider to be key points here. There is a good deal of literature on the psychology of conversion and it’s worth checking out. The one thing I would emphasize is this: be certain that you are running to the Gods, not away from the God of your birth religion. That can change everything.

Most importantly, understand –because this can really trip one up unexpectedly—the way we were all taught to see “God,” our expectations of “God,” and of “liturgy” were formed by our birth religion. Moreover, we learned how to be in relationship with our Gods, what it means to be in “right relationship” with the Holy from those self-same birth religions. That may or may not be congruent with what those things mean in Heathenry. This can lead to moments of intense discomfort, unexpected anger, and cognitive disconnect: our ingrained and unexamined expectations aren’t matching up with the reality of our new faith.

There can often be sadness or grief, not just at losing one’s religious community but at the loss of those things familiar and comforting. It’s ok to mourn your birth religion. It’s quite natural, actually and you may find yourself mourning different things at different times. That process isn’t necessarily one that will be completed all at once. You may feel incredible guilt at times, particularly if you converted from an evangelical branch of Christianity. Those fears are normal too. Just sit with it, talk about it with a supportive network of friends, journal, and most of all pray about it. Eventually, you will work your way through.

Also, sometimes there are things that we don’t want to leave behind. Prayer, for instance, doesn’t belong to any religion. Polytheists have always prayed so when people tell you that it’s Christian behavior, you can dismiss them as simply not knowing what they’re talking about. Maybe a particular prayer still resonates – that’s fine. Rework it so you can still use it. Maybe you have a devotional relationship with one of the Gods or Holy Powers of your birth religion. It’s ok to maintain that. It doesn’t make you a bad polytheist. In fact, it makes you very surely polytheistic. It can, however be awkward and there are those in our community who may shame you for it and you may end up with conflicting religious requirements that need to be carefully navigated. In those cases, seek out a specialist. Polytheists have done this for millennia.

It’s a sad reality in contemporary polytheism in general and Heathenry in particular that spiritual direction is sadly lacking. This can lead not only to fumbling during dark nights of the soul – which are a perfectly normal part of any healthy spirituality – but also to incredible isolation and loneliness. You may have to struggle to find community but it is out there. The internet has really transformed this and made it much easier to connect with like-minded co-religionists. Don’t let anyone bully you. The most important thing you can do is to take the time to develop a clean devotional relationship with your Gods. That happens through prayer, meditation, offerings, shrine work. Even if you fumble (and you will. We all do.), have courage and do your best to begin some type of consistent practice. I always tell people to “start where you start” because people will struggle inevitably with different things but everyone can do something and then you build on that. New converts often get caught up in one of two things, both of which are terribly damaging to one’s spiritual life: perfectionism (what Christians termed ‘scrupulosity’) and fundamentalism. The first involves becoming obsessed or obsessively worried with getting every little thing perfectly correct and with never making a mistake. You won’t always get things perfectly correct, and you will make mistakes and you have to in order to learn anything. Almost everything else can be sorted out with a diviner or specialist if need be. Scrupulosity can destroy a person. It is right and proper to be concerned about miasma and to approach the Gods reverently but scrupulosity will cause your love and devotion to wither because all you will be worried about is whether or not you are making errata. If this starts to be an issue, change up your practices. Change your routine, your rhythms, even the way you pray. There is a spiritual discipline inherent in carefully training yourself to avoid scrupulosity but to cultivate piety, and it’s something that you can develop over time with practice. The Gods will not hate you when you make honest mistakes. You will not be a bad Heathen.

Many converts also become very fundamentalist in their new religion. They want one way of doing things and it is the only correct way ™ and if you don’t do it that way, you’re wrong/evil/deluded/insert term of choice here. This isn’t a Heathen specific thing, though Gods know we see enough of it within Heathenry (lore thumping anyone? We get a great deal of our converts from Protestant Christianities, especially the evangelical varieties, and this has had a tremendous influence on mainstream Heathen ritual structure and the obsession with lore and having something analogous to scripture.), but common with new converts to any religion. Don’t do this. Polytheism is ontologically different from monotheism. There are so many different ways to honor the Gods within various traditions. While each tradition will have its rules, when it comes to personal devotion, and what we call “hearth cultus,” or household worship, it is as manifold and varied as there are Gods and ancestors.

One thing that converts should be aware of is possible hostility and pressure from families. I have found that parents and relatives can take it very personally when a child converts. I can understand this. Were I a parent, I wouldn’t take it well should my child convert away from polytheism. It strikes at core values and there can be a deep concern for the well-being of the child. I have no answers on how to deal with this. Truthfully, each situation is different, but just be aware that it can become an issue. It helps to be mentally prepared.

Far more difficult are the tensions that can arise when one converts as a married adult, particularly if there are children involved. I think that it is crucial that we raise our children as polytheists, but if you are married to a non-polytheist and then convert, this may create significant problems. Hell, even converting may be an issue depending on the religious persuasion of your spouse. You’ll need to figure out your priorities and what you can compromise on and what you absolutely will not. This can destroy marriages, I won’t lie. It doesn’t have to though, because polytheism can encompass Christian (or other) cultus. It cannot, however, encompass monotheistic exclusivist claims and that is usually where the problems arise. If custody becomes an issue, get a damned good lawyer because it is almost inevitable that your new religion will become an issue. We shouldn’t have to fight these battles in 2020 but they’re hardly the only battle we still have to fight. Again, be prepared. This may seem harsh, but that is not my intention. I am trying here to be as realistic as possible.

Finally, converting is not just a matter of replacing one God or no Gods with many. It involves a total shift in worldview, in values, ethics, and in one’s way of being in the world. It is often quite a cognitive shock to realize for the first time the degree to which one’s polytheism is incompatible with the values of the modern (or post-modern) world. Realizing that we live in a “world full of Gods” as the philosopher Thales wrote, changes everything. It eventually transforms our values, our priorities, and the way that we ourselves choose to be in the world. Like coming out of Plato’s cave, there’s no going back to the state one was in before, and that can be very uncomfortable. One area where I have seen people really struggle is understanding that morality/ethics and religion were not yoked in ancient polytheisms. This is a really big issue. Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) draw their morality from their religion, specifically their holy books. This is not the case in polytheism. The position of religion is very different. Here’s how it breaks down:

  • Religion is a set of protocols for engaging with the Holy Powers (Gods, ancestors, spirits).
  • Philosophy, custom, culture, and civic engagement were ways of developing virtue, morality, and an ethical sense.
  • Soteriological concerns fell under the warrant of various mystery cultus.

Abrahamic traditions tend to roll all those things into one (I’m not sure why. I’ve never thought about it from their perspective). We do not. Religion is restricted to the Gods, the Holy, the Powers. So, when we have sacred stories that present the Gods in ways we find less than stellar, they’re not meant to be read as literal necessarily, and they’re not meant to serve as the Ten Commandments or a similar ethical guide. They are meant instead to give us windows into the Mysteries of a specific Holy Power. They can be read in multiple ways, but their purpose was never to teach ethics or virtue. That’s what philosophy was for.

So, when you run across people who say “I would never worship a God who does X.” or “If my God told me to do X I would cease worshipping Him” you know you’re dealing with someone who has no idea of how to engage with the Holy Powers, and certainly no idea of how to engage with surviving lore. Instead of squawking like rabid marmots about how the Gods don’t live up to our standards, we should instead be concerned with venerating Them. It is for us to live up to Their standards not the other way around, because whatever standards They have are not necessarily presented through the cosmological stories, but rather through the intricacies of personal engagement via devotion (also because we are not ontologically on the same level as the Gods and our purpose is Their veneration). We are tasked with undoing two thousand years of terrible propaganda directed toward polytheism, starting with dubious claims that our Gods lack virtue, claims that were made precisely because of our cosmological stories (1).

Finally, (for real this time), it can take a while to learn to be proudly polytheistic. That’s ok. If you have moments of doubt, it doesn’t make you a bad polytheist, a bad Heathen, a bad [insert polytheistic tradition here], it makes you human. If you sometimes find yourself feeling awkward when talking with relatives or colleagues and slip and use the singular when referring to the Gods, that’s ok. Note it and do better next time (if it is safe for you to do so). I find that there can be terrible pressure to hide one’s polytheism, curbing our language to reflect monotheistic mores and/or to make those around us who are not polytheist comfortable. I think it is beneficial to train yourself out of this. They will not curb their monotheistic language for you and really, neither side should have to do so. Our religious reality is different from that of a monotheistic interlocutor and that’s ok. If they are not big enough to handle that, such a thing is on them. Of course, I have flat out been asked, “You are so educated…do you really believe in Gods?” I’ve taken to responding, “Of course. It is because I am educated that I believe in Them.” This is facile though – yes, it is the most sensible thing in the world to recognize the Holy Powers, but …it is simply reality and a reality that will not be denied. Falling into linguistic patterns or marking yourself as a polytheist publicly in other ways may feel awkward at first, especially if you don’t have a support network of co-religionists, but it’s never good to pretend to be something or someone that you are not (2).

There is so much more that I could discuss about this topic, but these are just a few key points that I think particularly relevant. Also, if you have just converted: welcome. This is a glorious time to be a polytheist.  

Notes:

  1. While examples abound in early Christian writing, a brief perusal of Augustine’s De civitate dei (City of God) will provide plenty examples of this. It’s filled with purposeful misrepresentation of indigenous polytheisms and co-opting of Neo-Platonism to some degree, something that Christians continued doing well into the modern period. Augustine really set the stage for later scholastic appropriation of ancient philosophy.
  2. Take the time to develop a support network, of polytheists if you can, but at least of supportive, understanding friends. It is a godsend, as friends always are, and can do wonders in helping you through the rough times spiritually.

What Makes a Good “Ground Crew”?

I was telling my husband how helpful his honest question about drinking horns had been and he looked at me and after a moment said, “you should write something about what makes good ground crew.”  I’ve only very rarely seen this discussed, even amongst spiritworkers, so I think maybe he’s right and so here we go.

Firstly, what do I mean when I say ‘ground crew?’

This is a term a bunch of us came up with (or at least began using) in 2004 after the first ‘Keepers’ Crossing’ gathering held at Cauldron Farm. This was an international gathering of spiritworkers, shamans, vitkar, mystics, et al that we held yearly for five or six years. It was the equivalent of a professional conference and gave us a professional forum where we could meet with other specialists and delve into the nitty gritty aspects of our work. We networked, exchanged tech. and sometimes talked terminology. It turned out that quite a few of us were using similar terminology to refer to the team of people – be they spiritworkers or not—who assisted us before, during, and after possessory work (1), intense trance and journey work, or other aspects of spirit work that require altered states of some sort.

Why do we need ground crew?

Well, we may not needground crew, but a competent and committed ground crew certainly makes the sacred work go more smoothly.

The spirit worker needs to be focused on doing the work he or she has set to do, in order to do that as cleanly as possible. That often means neglecting their bodies. If that person is splitting attention, distracted by practicalities it can make him less efficient. If she has no ground crew to monitor her, she can push into injury, pain, or even seizure. If a Deity is coming via possession, then it is only polite to have attendants. After such work, a spirit worker can be disoriented, sick, in pain, or just spacy. The ground crew makes sure that the spirit worker does everything required to transition back into mundane headspace safely. What that entails will differ from spirit worker to spirit worker and it’s something that must be discussed in detail well before any work occurs (2).

It’s easy to forget essential things if one is doing any type of altered state work so the team acts as spotters. Spirit work of any kind is grueling on the body. It can trigger chronic pain flares, immune issues, neurological problems, migraines, muscle spasms, and dehydration to name but a few. I don’t know how much of it comes from the average spirit-worker’s intense focus and stubbornness about pushing through, and how much is just a side effect of the work itself. Shifting states of consciousness, dropping quickly from regular headspace to a deeply altered state, carrying divine energy, working with the energies with which many of us work takes its toll and we learn to dissociate from pain very early. It’s really, really helpful to have a team that doesn’t do that, whose sacred job is taking care of the physical needs of the spirit worker. Usually that means, attending them as they prep for whatever work they’re doing, watching over them during that work, and making sure they’re fed, watered, and relatively functional after. It also means doing all the physical driving. Do not drive after doing altered state work of any kind, people. It may also mean acting as a spotter if the spirit worker has to do on site unexpected spirit work. This happened to me, for instance, the first time I went to Gettysburg. I had an intense experience with some of the military dead, one that laid me completely out for three days. If I hadn’t had a very calm, centered keeper with me, I could have walked into traffic, fallen and broken an ankle, forgotten to eat, etc. Ground crew are angels, absolute guardian angels.

On a purely practical level, it’s also really nice to have a pair of hands or several pairs to help manage tools and sacred items. This is important work – not everyone can safely handle exposure to sacred tools. They’re also capable of bundling up the spiritworker and calling 911 if need be – I’ve done a lot of my work in the woods, and accidents happen even when one is just hiking. Add altered state work on to that, or any other type of spirit work, and it’s best to be prepared. One of my ground crew always has a full medical kit with them, and enough first aid to make use of it.

So, what makes good ground crew?

Well, this is my opinion and what I look for in my own ground crew. I’d love to hear from other spirit workers about what you look for in your team. I also want to emphasize that having a ground crew is a real privilege. I worked for over 15 years without one and I have to say, it’s so much easier to do good, effective work with ground crew. It was mind-blowing to me just how much easier it was the first time I experienced it. To those who are willing and able to serve in this capacity: THANK YOU a thousand times.

Firstly, while I prefer ground-crew that has at least a bit of sensitivity to Gods, spirits, and energy, it is perfectly ok to have someone head-blind on your team. The important thing is that they know how to monitor both the spirit worker and everyone around them, especially if it’s a public ritual (3).  If they are gifted, they need to be in control of that: grounded, centered, and with a capacity for shielding, preferably up to and including the ability to shield someone else. Spirit workers can make excellent ground crew themselves and it’s always good to do this for others, because you learn what it takes.

I like at least one person to have medical training – at least CPR and first aid. The best ground crew I ever worked with had two people in the medical field on it, one of them a nurse. They also have to be discrete. They’re going to see the spiritworker at his or her most vulnerable, possibly up to helping him/her dress or undress, vomiting, passing out, etc. They need to know how to keep their teeth together. They are also responsible for making sure the spiritworker’s property, tools, garments, etc. are in good order, collected, and with the spiritworker when they depart. It’s important that they have food, hydration, and other necessities for helping the spiritworker ground and come back to mundane headspace afterwards. They provide aftercare, making sure the spiritworker isn’t in shock, is hydrated, fed, grounded. They provided grounding and shielding if needed. They force the spiritworker to eat and drink (discuss this with them very early on and work out what is acceptable. Each spiritworker will have preferences. I tell my crew to make me eat, to be hardasses about it because I know I won’t want to and I’ll be resistant). It goes without saying that the crew must be pious (4).

Most important of all, every single person on the ground crew needs to be organized, capable of following instructions, and willing to take orders, but also think on the spot as situations arise and/or change. It is the spiritworker’s obligation to teach the ground crew what they need to know: preferences, protocols, emergency procedures, situations that may occur, etc. They need to function as a well-oiled team. Most of all, the crew has to be security aware. Their job is to protect and assist the spiritworker who may be operating on a completely different state of awareness or not conscious at all if possession is happening. They are there to provide care and safety. The team cannot be afraid to get their hands dirty and they cannot be hesitant when it comes to protecting their charge. I like one of my team to be armed for just this reason.

The ground crew has an incredibly important function: they ensure that sacred protocols are followed by everyone concerned so that rites and rituals can happen properly, in ways that allow for clean communication between the Gods and the community, and that enable the spiritworker or specialist to come through the work with as little damage as possible. They make the transitions as smooth as possible. So, take the time to train a good crew and treat them like gold. They’re worth it.

I would love to know what questions you have so please don’t be shy. Post them in the comments and I’ll try to answer as best I can.

 

Notes:

  1. This term refers to the practice of Deity possession, allowing a Deity to pour His or Her consciousness into ours, taking over for a time to engage with devotees. It’s a sacred act and a traditional one, appearing in polytheisms the world over. There is ample evidence for it having been practiced amongst the Norse. Today, folks are probably most familiar with it from various Afro-Caribbean religions like Lukumi, Voudoun, and Candomble.
  2. As an example, before the third day of our solstice ritual I was right at the cusp of a pain flare (I have fibro). I was in growing physical pain on a number of levels. I knew that if we waited a couple of hours I would probably stabilize and could do the ritual without a problem. I said to my team, “I can push this, but I’ll pay for it.” And we discussed whether or not that was necessary. It wasn’t, so we were able to wait a couple of hours and everything went off quite well. Had I needed to force the appropriate headspace and mobility, I could have done, but the wisdom of my ground crew took over and they were better able to evaluate the situation (whereas I was really concerned about the work to the extent I would push all else aside for no need). Because of that, I was functional later that evening and not in terrible pain the next day.
  3. In a public rite, the spiritworker should ALWAYS have a keeper who doesn’t leave their side but isn’t at all intrusive. I remember several years ago being asked to carry our moon God Mani via possession, what we call “horsing,” an Afro-Caribbean term that implies that the Deity rides the devotee like a rider might a horse. We don’t control when the Deity seats Him or Herself. Our job is to prepare properly and show up with a willingness to be of service. That’s it. If the Deity decides not to descend, that’s ok. There could be a million reasons why that have nothing at all to do with the spiritworker. Our job is to show up prepared.

    Well, Mani is unusual when He possesses in that He likes the sense of corporeality of the horse experiencing the God experiencing the horse. He’s slow and careful, leaving all the devotee’s mental architecture in the same state when He leaves as it was when He possessed. He doesn’t rush. So, He was skirting around the edges of my consciousness, partially there but not fully, taking His time as is His privilege to do.As I was pacing before His offering table, another spirit worker, knowing better – so much so that I cannot help but think this person did this in order to break me out of the necessary headspace and ruin the ritual—came up and grabbed my/His shoulders and basically told Him to get the show on the road. Had I been fully me, I’d have clocked the polluted creature in the mouth for violating ritual space and possibly for assault because this person wasn’t gentle. Mani is much calmer and was in me enough that I wasn’t fully me. This prevented my own normal response (let’s not even get into the fact that this creature knew I have neck damage and the way I was grabbed could have compounded that).

 My ground crew had gotten separated from me – people often want to be close to the horse because of the Deity energy pouring through them and one of the things a crew does is monitor that and keep it orderly. The horse should never be overwhelmed and touching a horse in anyway, particularly before the Deity fully seats Him or Herself in them is a huge no no. It can completely break the horse out of the necessary receptive headspace for the possession. Well, I’m told later that the head of my crew saw it, saw this other spirit worker coming and couldn’t get across the field in time to head it off. Fortunately, I am very experienced and thanks to my training was able to remain focus. Mani slid in when it suited Him and held court and people were able to engage with this God.

I recount this to emphasize the necessity of training your crew for every possible situation. I had worked with those wanting me to carry Mani before, and knew most of those gathered. I had no reason to suspect that an experienced spirit worker who, while we disliked each other personally, was a professional would behave in such a violent and inappropriate fashion. I had not prepared my ground crew for this, because I assumed that such a thing – unthinkable to anyone with basic piety—would not happen. I was wrong and because I did not prepare them, it wasn’t on their radar as something to pay particular attention to so even when the head of my crew saw it happening, he couldn’t stop it. It is incumbent on the spiritworker not the ground crew to prepare the crew with all necessary protocol and for any possible situation that may occur. ].

  1. On the positive side, because they are navigating everything behind the scenes, the ground crew will usually be the first to witness the theophany of possession, and it is with possessory work that they are the most crucial for the spiritworker’s welfare.

Heathenry Has Standards * whines *

Today a reader sent me a blog post (which was rather old) wherein a self-described feminist complains about all the things that’s wrong with Heathenry. When I stopped laughing, I decided I should address some of the points therein. Now, I know some of y’all send me obnoxious news articles and blog posts to wind me up and that’s ok. I read and file most of them but every once in a while, something will dovetail with an issue I want to cover, or will skirt along the periphery of something that is worth addressing so here we are. Keep the articles coming.

I deleted the email after I read it this morning but several points stuck in my head so I’ll try to recap them here:

Our intrepid blogger complained that * gasp* Heathenry has an “unspoken code of hierarchy,” and an expectation of deference to those with more experience, and also– oh holy gods, no! —the expectation of “obedience to protocol.”  Well yes, cupcake, it does. That’s how religious traditions function. You don’t come into a space expecting it to change to accommodate you, especially when you know nothing of the tradition, it’s Gods, or the proper protocols for approaching Them; and yes, experience and specialist training should be respected. Every asshole might have an opinion but all opinions are most definitely not  equal. Those protocols you find so horrific? In a healthy tradition, they are a living architecture that allows for safe and respectful engagement with the Holy Powers. These things are the precise building blocks of a tradition. You don’t get to do what you want. There actually are rules. I know that’s hard for you but it’s not actually oppression, sweetie. You are always free to leave, which I hope you have done.

Heathenry celebrates “honor, generosity and” horror of horrors  “the family.”

Why yes, we do, because not only are those good and positive things, but they are the very things necessary for a functioning tradition that lasts for more than one generation. What sustains a tradition is inter-generational transmission of its tenets and protocols. Beyond that, since when did families become bad things? They are the building blocks not just of civilization but of society too. A tradition that doesn’t respect the family isn’t one that’s going to last very long, not in any cohesive, evolving way. We have plenty of examples of that in those weird, early American religious movements that were anti-family and anti-sex. How many Shakers do you know now?

I think honor and generosity speak for themselves as being virtues worth cultivating. I’m not quite sure what the problem was there, though I can surmise that this person went into a group and started demanding special accommodations to her way of doing things, accommodations that struck those entrenched in their tradition as impious, unnecessary, and foolish, and that she had a hissy fit when she was expected to behave herself accordingly or leave. That’s not lack of hospitality on the part of the host. Hospitality goes two ways: there is the hospitality owed from host to guest and that owed from guest to host and I’m guessing the blogger had no concept of the second. (Of course, one thing I suggest for handling visitors and newcomers: detail an experienced member to be their chaperone. Then they have someone to whom they can direct questions at appropriate times, who can guide them through expectations and protocols because suddenly being dropped in a religious group with established traditions can be intimidating, and in any group, there ARE unspoken rules. It’s unfair to expect people to abide by them if they haven’t been properly introduced, or if these things haven’t been made clear. It helps if newcomers have someone they can turn to. I also, when I lead rituals, carefully go over all the constituent parts and expectations before we begin. I want everyone on the same page – and not every Deity has the same protocol so it’s good to recap for everyone’s sake. I assume nothing from those in attendance. We all have off days after all, so I prefer to err on the side of caution and go over things carefully).

The unhappy feminist blogger also complained that we Heathens have a sense of inangarð and utgarð, things founded in “misogyny, hubris, and apathy.” I’m not sure what cognitive leap our intrepid feminist has made here in linking these things, but apparently, a tradition having the power to choose who is part of that tradition, a group having the power to make decisions of who is a good fit based on many things including ability to follow sacral protocols is a horror. Look, traditions have protocol and if someone comes in unwilling to follow those protocols, with no intention of abiding by the cultural expectations of the group, someone who is also persistently disrespectful to the elders of that tradition or group, then that person will be shown the door and not invited back. Knowing who we are as a tradition, differentiating ourselves from other traditions, and holding a firm boundary that says: “that is your space. You do you over there. This is our space and here, this is what is expected” is a good thing, one that supports sustainable infrastructure. We’re not anarchists after all, neither religiously nor socially. We have a right, furthermore, as morally aware human beings, to remove someone who is violating consent, personal space, or behaving sexually inappropriately (esp. around children), etc. You might get removed with a shotgun you pull the last thing there in many Heathen groups, but you’ll be rightly removed.

Now, one area where I do think the author has a point, is that men do assume that they have a right to de facto leadership within Heathenry and female leaders are exposed to continual “vicious criticism and subtle demands to step down.” Yeah. I’d say in many respects that is absolutely correct, but what the author never wants to address is that this happens in many cases, because other women don’t back those female leaders; or other women are the ones perpetrating the bad, anti-women behavior. Rather than support a female leader, all too often women side with the men (I can’t help thinking about a conversation my husband stumbled on several years ago where women were urging men on in making sexually violent suggestions about me, involving a horse and a shotgun stock. It never occurred to them that if they were to one day act with integrity and/or shake up the status quo that they’d be turned on just the same. This happens ALL the time). So yes, I agree, Heathenry has a problem with female leadership – less now than thirty years ago when I first became Heathen, but it’s still an issue. I also think there is a certain dismissive disrespect for Goddesses Whose area of warrant is the home and household arts. There is talk of women who focus on these things being respected but they do tend to be respected only when they remain functional and decorative. Let them step up into the leadership roles our foremothers enjoyed and there is deep dysfunction and discomfort in the majority of Kindreds (I might be somewhat biased here in that I came out of Theodism where this is the worst – women happy in domestic spheres may not immediately recognize this, but if your work involves anything else, if your sacred Work involves anything else, good fucking luck).

And yes, I’ve seen hospitality terribly lacking in many Heathen settings and the hypocrisy of that grates. Thing is, the same places where I encounter that, I also encounter a deep hostility toward devotion, or in fact, toward anything that doesn’t resemble Protestant style worship. I think it comes not from “patriarchy” or “misogyny” but from the lack of a coherent tribal mindset, and * that * comes from not yet accepting the deep divide between polytheistic values, including Heathen ones, and the moral degeneration and disconnection of modernity.

The very things this blogger was complaining about are the very things integral to any healthy, sustainable community. Consider that.

Why “Gods”? — A Reader Question

Recently I was asked why I used the term “Gods” instead of θεοι (Greek: Gods) or Reginn (Norse: Holy Powers), or some other term. My friend asked me if I would address this on my blog as I sometimes take questions from readers. I’ve been meaning to do it for a couple of weeks now, but end of term paper writing, of necessity, took precedence. Now that the term is officially over, however, I finally have time to address this.

Firstly, it goes without saying that since I’m working and writing in English, I’m going to use English terms. “Gods,” for instance, is simply the English translation of θεοι. Why wouldn’t I use the appropriate English term? I could write my blog in an ancient language, a couple of them, in fact, but what good would that do to my temper or the cognition of my readers? No one needs the pain lol.

Of course, that’s not the real question. I think what my interlocutor was really asking is why do I use a term ‘God’ so associated with the Abrahamic God. I’ve seen the same question arise with regard to words like ‘piety,’ ‘devotion,’ even ‘prayer’ (perhaps most especially prayer). It is a sad testament to how deep the damage done by the Abrahamic traditions in many born into their more evangelical or fundamentalist denominations runs. There can be a knee-jerk response, hostility, anger, hurt, distaste, disgust at certain words that were once used in one’s birth religions to hammer home a doctrine of despair, fear, guilt, shame, and a very dubious “salvation.” The problem isn’t the words themselves. It’s how they were used. The words themselves remain signifiers of important ideas and in the case of “God,” signifiers of one or more of the Holy Powers (1).

The argument that is occasionally put forth of course, is that we should not use terms like this (especially “God”) because then we can “distance ourselves from the Abrahamic concept of God.” I think this is, however, terribly misguided thinking. What we do by eschewing the proper words for these things and Powers, is that we allow the Abrahamic traditions to claim sole ownership of these things (which granted, they try to claim already); but more importantly, in discarding these words, not only are we twisting our language out of true and cutting off our ability to think clearly, piously, and accurately about our Gods, but we’re also denying Their ontological reality. We’re allowing that the Power of one family of religions (Abrahamic) is so much greater than ours (Polytheistic) that we cannot dare to translate a term accurately, a term whose English iteration is drawn etymologically from its Greek and Latin predecessors. Moreover, we’re cutting off our ability to clearly communicate with the very Powers under discussion. We are willfully stunting our ability to contemplate Divine reality.

A Word is a Doorway. It’s a window into something far greater than any collection of phonemes can ever reflect, but at the same time, those phonemes ping in our consciousness, call us to awareness, connect us to our history and our ancestral traditions in ways that we ought to be very careful of erasing. Erasure is never good, ever. Good, bad, or neutral: we are who we are now because of those who came before us and we can learn and move forward only with eyes open and hearts filled with courage.

So why do I call a God a God? Because it’s the appropriate and accurate term. Because it is not right to cede that space in our minds, in our discourse, in our hearts, in our memories (2).

Notes:

  1. Last week there was a very rich thread on twitter (I tried to find it again but could not tonight when I looked) wherein Edward Butler was discussing the depth and complexity added to translations of Platonic philosophers when one more accurately translates any reference to θεος as the God instead of just “God,” the latter of which presumes monotheism whereas the former the thickness and rich diversity of polytheism. Not only is it far, far more accurate given that our Platonic philosophers were, by and large, men and women of piety and reverence for the Gods, but it forces our acknowledgment of that fact today, something far too often elided from current English translations and discussions. It’s something to consider whenever reading translations from the Latin or Greek. Often the singular “God” was used in a way that meant “THE God” i.e. “THIS God in THIS situation” as opposed to “The one and only God.” It’s a subtle but crucially important distinction. In Latin especially, which has no article (a/an/the), this is particularly important to consider in translations.
  2. In many respects, we must consciously deprogram ourselves of the subtle and sometimes quite unexpected impact of our birth religions. Sometimes there are good things we take away: Catholic or Orthodox methods of devotion for instance, or Protestant techniques for engaging with a text, but quite often it’s more troubling vestiges that arise.

Misfit Veggies and Food Waste, also, our Ceres Shrine

While the world is going happily to hell, my household has been working to become more self-sufficient. We have a long way to go but this process has been bringing us closer to our ancestors, to the land, and to our Gods too. Working with the land in any capacity is a healing thing, and since I know I’ve been getting emotionally overwhelmed by watching and reading the news more than normal these past few days, I thought perhaps those of you who are in the same boat might enjoy reading this, or at least find in it a bit of a helpful respite.

Firstly, I’ve made my first journeys into canning. I’m still a little afraid to try induction canning. I’ve never done that before, nor do I remember my grandmother doing it, but I have done water-based canning over a decade ago and I know my maternal grandmother did as well. I wanted to try it again. So, I made pickles. It was easy, much more so than I expected. First, I took myself in hand and even though I was nervous took our leftover parsnips and carrots and pickled the hell out of them. We’ve been picking up produce and eggs weekly at a local CSA. The farm is really wonderful, the people lovely to deal with, and the food organic and fresh (they work with two other local farms also, so the farm stand is well stocked. There was even a bit of fruit, though it’s early yet for that) (1). The parsnip/carrot pickles turned out well. The canning process went as it ought to have done; the jars sealed. It helped my confidence a bit, so two nights ago, I took 2/3 of our cucumbers and made dill pickles. They turned out beautifully and as soon as we get more pickles from our CSA, I’ll be making more. It’ll be even better once our dill flowers. We planted dill and have a ton of it. There’s something really nice about using produce or herbs that one has grown oneself. So far, we’ve only been able to do that with our greens (Romaine, lettuces, sorrel, spinach, some chard) and herbs but soon we’ll have more vegetables to play with. I’ve been able to freeze quite a bit, at least two mos worth of greens for a household that eats A LOT of greens) (2). I mostly pray to my ancestors when I’m doing this, but Sigyn and Frau Holle have also been strongly in my thoughts and my prayers. I remember my adopted mom talking about how tending the home is sacred. It is making clean space that nourishes our loved ones. It is worthy work. I think of Them a lot when I cook now, and thank Them always for Their guidance. I’ve always liked to cook but this is new ground for me – literally!

Secondly, we have battled woodchucks and won. I was going to cook up the one we caught, but my housemates are culinary wusses lol and refused to even consider eating it, so, I let the local critter man just take it away. We’re also seeing a lot of garter snakes on our land. This is a good thing, a sign of a healthy environment, and I like snakes. I’m glad they’re making themselves known. They can stay ha ha.  My poor housemate though never saw one up close until she found one lounging in a planting pot she was wanting to use. I’m afraid it freaked her a little bit, but she’s slowly getting used to them (3). When I see one, I give thanks and sometimes make small offerings to the Lithuanian Goddess Egle, and also to Eir, sometimes Asklepius. The snake brings healing, wisdom, transmutes poisons. I’m really glad they’re present and I almost always take it as a positive sign when one appears.

This week we received our first box from Misfit Market. This company works with local growers to buy up produce that stores won’t touch. That produce might be oddly shaped. It might be weird looking. It might be perfectly good but small or a little weird in color. Usually this produce would go to waste (though farmers can turn it into compost at least) so this way, it doesn’t. They have a number of subscription boxes one can order. I was shocked when we got our box. The produce looked just fine to me and it tasted really good. I would have bought any of it in a store if I’d seen it. I am really boggled at the idea that it would have been rejected from regular supermarkets, but I’ve been horrified lately by food waste.

My husband and I watched this documentary recently – he knew about this already, but I didn’t. It blew my mind. I have trouble conceiving of such waste. When my grandmother was raising her five children, she was so poor she shot squirrels to feed her family. I was terribly poor in my twenties and the idea of having a full refrigerator and larder is still something that occasionally makes me cry. I have a pantry now, with a good three months of food at least put away (all staples like flour, sugar, pasta, rice, beans, etc.), full cupboards, fresh produce on my counter, a full fridge, a large freezer full of meat, and greens, and game and I am grateful. I remember more than once in my twenties having to eat food that was borderline bad because it was all that I had, and going hungry too. I can’t stand to see someone hungry. Those who come to my home leave well fed and with food if they need it.

I recommend watching the documentary. It really opened my eyes and maybe it will give you all ideas for small ways to cut food waste. I just decided to do what I suggest people do with ancestor veneration: to start where I happen to be at the moment and go from there. Our next step is learning how to compost (4). When I’m dealing with food, I vacillate between honoring Ceres, Pomona, Nerthus, Frey, and for cooking, Fornax. This brings me to my final update. We finally installed our Ceres shrine. There will eventually be special space for Nerthus and at least one shrine for Frey and when our fruit trees and bushes start to blossom, we want to put up something for Pomona. This week, however, we installed our Ceres shrine and it is lovely.

Ceres shrine

There is a wire arch over it and beans planted on either side that will, as they grow, climb up over the arch so that Ceres’ statue will be surrounded by green, growing things. Behind her, our main garden bed begins, and immediately behind her there are zucchini, onions, and eggplant growing. On either side of her, there is fennel, hyssop, borage, and chamomile.

We are also growing the nine herbs of Woden, but that’s a post for another day.

Notes:

  1. The farm was originally doing a weekly CSA box, but their farm manager took a leave of absence due to family illness (not Covid) so they refunded everyone, saying that they didn’t feel they could guarantee the quality and timeliness they wished. We got our refunds, $50 gift cards, and it’s not that big a deal. We would have had to go weekly to pick up the produce anyway. We do that now and get to pick what’s in our box. It all works out well. They even have butter and eggs from another local farm, which is lovely. We’ve really been trying to eat organically but just as importantly locally. We’re trying to develop relationships with local farmers and gardeners, supporting where we can instead of buying from supermarkets. So far, so good.
  2. For me, working the land physically has brought me into greater communion with my male Lithuanian ancestors, but working in the kitchen brings all my Disir around. (For those not Heathen, Disir are female ancestors). It’s a place sacred to them, where nourishing the line, the home, loved ones takes real and concrete form and where stories and wisdom, knowledge and family culture is passed down from our grandmothers (and some grandfathers too but it’s simple historical fact that gender roles were much more divided prior to the twentieth century – this is not to say that women’s roles were treated with disdain. They weren’t. They were utterly essential. One of my Lithuanian ancestors, a male ancestor really drove this home for me. He emphasized that most men worked outdoors with that type of hard labor – some women too but mostly men. Then the women took over with household gardens and indoor work (Cooking, keeping the fire). It took both to successfully sustain a family and both were sacred. There was absolute egalitarianism in his approach to it, and a sense that there were mysteries in both that were holy, complimentary and holy).
  3. There aren’t poisonous snakes in our immediate area, though the mountain has been getting rattlers recently. We’re just getting garter snakes.
  4. We have two compost boxes in the back, but I’m concerned they will attract rodents.

 

 

 

 

 

Gardening Updates as of May 18, 2020

Gardening is so weird. It’s awesome and wonderful and back-breaking and frustrating and just weird. We’ve had some ups and downs this past month, with unusually cold weather about two weeks ago killing our basil plants. That was shocking – not that they died, but that they turned totally black having been frozen to death. I’ve read accounts about farming and trying to save crops from an unexpected frost, about how they could turn black and be lost but I’d never seen it happen and it was really shocking to see. We’ve replaced the basil but our intense respect for the elemental powers grows daily (and for farmers, and all of our ancestors who were farmers who depended on the land and elements for not only their livelihood but for the survival of their families).  I’m also deeply envious of my friend Sarenth’s rotary tiller lol. I have told him this too. Now, mind you, we don’t have that much land that we would ever *need* a rotary tiller, but that is not the point. I saw pictures he was posting on facebook of a beautifully ploughed field bed and now I have rotary tiller envy. Ha ha.

Our greens have grown lol. I’ve been harvesting and freezing romaine, lettuce, chard, spearmint (I like to add a little to salads to give it a zing), and just as of today, spinach. I’ve also been making salads and clipping our chives to use in omelets and it’s wonderful. The food grown by our own hands tastes so much cleaner and fresher than what we buy at the store. We’re waiting with bated breath for our tomatoes to decide what they’re going to do.

I’m currently waiting on two raised gardening beds for the other side of the house where we’re going to put our root vegetables. I was worried we’d be late planting, but everything we want to put there will work in late summer/early autumn so that is perfect. I just wish the beds would arrive already!

I planted a bunch of seedlings, the first time I’ve worked from seed, and they’re growing! I looked today and radishes and marjoram had sprouted. I hope the parsnips and carrots follow suit. In the interim, we planted a bunch of flowers (many of which are either edible or medicinal and all of which are beautiful), another rose bush (I love roses and have a couple more on order), and I set out some potted herbs: marjoram, basil, rue, peppermint, lemon verbena, lavender, and chamomile.

may 2020 flowerpots 2

I also bought a tiny savory plant. I’ve read about this plant but have never used it in cooking. I’m looking forward to experimenting. First though, I need to make woodruff syrup so I can enjoy a nice Berliner Weise when the weather turns hot again. ^___^.

So that’s where we’re at now: waiting for things to arrive and letting the land do it’s work. We’re going to be setting up two shrines in the garden, most likely as part of our solstice celebrations: one to Ceres and one to Freyr. Working the land in this way, for me at least (I can’t speak for my housemates) has given me a far, far greater respect for my ancestors but also a deep sense of conscious connection to my Lithuanian ancestors particularly. I’d always felt somewhat disengaged from them, chalking it up to having been raised by my mother’s side of the family but since we started gardening, my Lithuanian ancestors have been so tremendously present. Farming was a way of life for them, whatever other professions they may have had. Several times they’ve actually given us suggestions to help with our planting. They know the land and what it takes to work it.

Next week, the local CSA should be open and possibly our local farmers’ market too. I’m looking forward to that and soon in addition to adventures in gardening, it will be adventures in canning and pickling. I shall keep you all up to date on how it goes.

may 2020 flower pots

Piety or Social Justice

Personally, I’ll take piety every time. (Though really, it’s not an either/or). It’s a very, very post-Enlightenment, anti-devotion thing to equate theology with social justice. The entire field of systematics has been built on this. It effectively rules out that messy engagement with any Deity that can be so challenging and complicated. It allows one to prioritize human things, effectively removing Gods from the equation completely. It’s a neat corrective to the complication to modern secularization that piety provides.

If you want to do social justice. Do it. That’s awesome. Don’t call it religion. It’s not. It’s what you do as an adult, engaged, civic-minded, conscientious human being. Unlike in monotheistic traditions, polytheisms don’t generally need to roll that into the realm of the Gods to make it palatable. The crazy thing is, there are civic Deities for Whom such social justice work might be a licit and welcome type of devotion but those are never, ever the Deities these self-styled social justice warriors are honoring (when they bother to pay lip service to piety and devotion at all, which more and more is rare). Why bother giving what you do the trappings of religion at all? It’s exactly the type of appropriation that y’all would whine and blather about in any other context.  You do so like defining other people’s lived experiences for them after all.

There’s quite a lot of social justice work that can be accomplished by the pious…who don’t spend all their time posting about it online. But social justice work does not take the place of a well-developed spirituality, or a personality.

In the ancient world, before polytheisms were attacked and many erased, this was how things tended to be structured: Religion was all about engaging with the Holy Powers. It was about a set of protocols for dealing with the sacred, large and small, public and private. Philosophy was the venue to which one looked for developing character and ethics, and developing as a decent human being. Adulthood involved civic responsibility. Soteriological questions were largely left to mystery cultus. Social justice didn’t absolve one from piety. Piety didn’t absolve one from social justice. The two were completely different realms of action.

I have zero respect for anyone who mistakes social justice for engagement with the Gods, for piety, for devotion, for religion. One may choose to take certain actions, to live his or her life in a certain way *because* of devotion to the Gods, but that is a far different thing from projecting one’s own opinions and politics onto one’s practices and pretending the Gods approve. (They might. They might not. These people generally never bother to check. It’s hubris.). You’re not making the world better. You’re polluting and destroying a tradition. You’re attempting to complete the work of monotheism and then secularism in erasing the Gods from our practices. I think this is one of the greatest threats to the future of Heathenry, to the future of polytheisms in general today the other being allowing atheists into our midst in sacred settings.

A life spent in veneration of the Gods, ancestors, and Holy Powers is a valuable life. So many of the problems social justice warriors aim to fix have their origin in the broken relationships between humanity and the Gods, humanity and the ancestors, humanity and the land. Fix those, and the rest will be righted in turn, because the power of those relationships demands  change in every other aspect of one’s life. It becomes the filter through which every action is taken, every decision made. Or you can keep applying bandaids to a bleeding artery.

Choices

Every single day we have an opportunity to make choices that bring us closer to our Gods, that clarify and nourish our devotional commitments, that help us develop in our hearts and minds, in the fertile field of our souls the type of landscape that encourages virtue (in the classical sense) and that encourages growth and clean veneration. This is Sunna’s gift to us. Every day we can begin anew.

Every day we have a choice: to fill our time, our leisure, our waking hours with things that cultivate respect and piety, to nurture attitudes of respect and graceful willingness, or to cultivate within ourselves attitudes of hubris, disrespect, contempt, and spiritual slovenliness. Every day, we can choose to be mindful or we can choose to be base, or to stop at any point in between on that spectrum. It’s up to us.

Who do we want to be in relation to our Gods and ancestors? How valuable are the commitments we’ve made to Them? How much to we keep our promises? That’s what it comes down to for each and every one of us. How much do we care, and what do we care about the most? It all comes down to the choices we make each and every day. To what am I going to give space in my mind? What will I allow to shape my feelings? On what will I spend my time and is it valuable in shaping me into the kind of human being I wish to be in relation to my Gods and ancestors…or not? Making good choices here consistently is called developing character. Each day Sunna gives us a choice. It’s up to us to make the most of it.