Category Archives: Polytheism
Today is the 3 year anniversary of my devotional book 📕 dedicated to the Norse Goddess Eir. 👩⚕️
By Scalpel and Herb, Blood and Healing Hands is a novena booklet to Eir, a Norse Goddess of Healing. It provides an introduction about this Goddess and nine days of prayers in Her honor.
Available on Amazon.
Who owns a copy?
Sometime it’s hard to believe just how much time has passed when these bookversaries come around. It has been six years since, He is Frenzy was first published. As a devotee of Odin, I have published several books around Him through the years: my first devotional (and the first devotional in all of Heathenry/the Northern Tradition) Whisperings of Woden, followed by Walking Toward Yggdrasil, He is Frenzy and then most recently a little chap book of prayers Nine for Odin.
He is Frenzy collects all of the essays and poetry that Northern Tradition author Galina Krasskova has written to honor the God Odin since 1995. Providing a survey of His ancient and modern cultus, it is also a deeply personal exploration of devotion, ordeal work and what it takes to walk the Odinic path.
So for my loyal readers who have read these various books around Odin, what was your favorite, and why?
One of the projects dear to me is in re-building a devotional practice to our Gods. Devotions are the very backbone of religious praxis and experience. There was a meme circulating a while ago stating: “What they won’t teach you about the founders of western science, math, medicine and philosophy is that they believed in the ancient Gods.” This is sadly in most cases very true.
I’ve decided to start a new project, pulling authentic quotes and prayers to share across social media as a reminder that these great minds were Polytheists, that they themselves would have engaged in devotional practices. They weren’t afraid of theophany, direct experience with the Gods. They recognized it for the blessing it is. If you care to contribute your own favorite quotes feel free to share them in the comments below. These graphics are meant to be shared, so please do share them.
The images will be housed and updated over in a photo album on my official Facebook author page. This album will be added to as time and opportunity permits.
The first couple are below.
Αἰσχύλο (also known as Aiskhylos, or Aeschylus) was born circa 525/524, and passed away circa 456/455 BC. He was an ancient Greek playwright, sometimes colloquially called the father of tragedies. Only a few of his estimated 70 plus plays have survived, among them is his trilogy of plays in The Oresteia (comprised of Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, and The Eumenides) represents the only complete trilogy of Greek plays by any playwright still extant, and it has been theorized that he was the first playwright to create stories told in trilogies. He also seems to have introduced to the theater more complex character interactions and more characters into his works then what had been standard before then. His plays won him first prize in the coveted Great Dionysia (a great festival dedicated to Dionysos) on more than one occasion.
In this direct quote from Aiskhylos, we see an understanding in why we engage in devotional practices and veneration to the Gods.
“Tradition” is not a dirty word either.
Nor are our traditions “open.” A tradition by its very nature cannot be. It is for “use” (if one can employ so crass a term) by those who actually follow the Gods. We do not and should not allow outsiders to run rough shod over that which we hold most sacred.* The integrity of our traditions is more important than anyone’s feelings or misguided notions of tolerance (i.e. appropriation). An “open” tradition is no tradition at all.
Honor your ancestors.
Honor your Gods.
Respect the land.
The way in which we do these things, the rites and rituals that form our various traditions are sacred expressions of these covenants. Only an impious fool would shit on them.
Those who decide to pervert our sacred symbols for racist reasons are disgusting. So are those who do the same for their “progressive” ideals.
We need to be very aware of people who are trying to turn these religious concepts into political dog whistles. Maybe they’re the ones with no place in our traditions.
*no, i don’t think one needs to be of scandinavian or german ancestry to be heathen. I think one needs to be pious and committed. period.
(This rambles…a lot lol. You have been warned).
So, I’ve been in New York City the last couple of days attending a theology conference. The title of the conference is “Faith, Reason, Theosis” and so far, it’s been pretty amazing. The scholastic currents being discussed (at least in day one) are well outside of my wheelhouse so I won’t discuss them here save to say that the entire idea of theosis makes me deeply uncomfortable. I did have an interesting talk with a Jesuit professor of philosophy (I took his course on Augustine a few years ago and it blew my mind) who agreed that, at least in part, ideas of theosis for Christians were influenced by pre-Christian concepts of deification. Still, it makes me deeply uncomfortable when it’s applied as a goal of faith, especially when post-modernists remove the sacramental scaffolding and even at times “God” from the equation. Thank you, no. If I want that, I can listen to a ceremonialist drone on and on. Lol. (Granted, this isn’t my area, so I may be grossly minimalizing the issues here and I’m drawing the questions and comments below largely from only a single day of speakers – there’s still two more to go. At any rate, the focus of the conference is discussion of Orthodox and Catholic responses to the idea of theosis). I was tired when I arrived at the conference, and at first, despite excellent presentations, I was a little bored (Thomas Aquinas—not my thing) but then the Q&A started and that was absolutely fascinating. It was almost enough, almost, to make me want to hold another polytheist conference. Hah. Don’t hold your breath.
Anyway, during the opening talks, I was scribbling notes and several questions arose from the speakers. Ignoring the pages of my journal where I kept noting that “Modernity=Nihilism”, (I also made crazy little sketches of presenters – idle hands after all and all that) the relevant things I want to discuss here are as follows (I will reframe from the singularity of the Divine articulated by the speakers to a more natural and appropriate plurality in my responses):
• How can a conscious spirit be anything other than a desire for God?
• God owes His creatures grace within the terms of creation (the grace to achieve theosis) but it’s a debt owed only to His own goodness.
• How can there be “excess” in loving one’s God? Many modern philosophers/theologians seem to speak of the “excessive qualities of the cross” in ways that seem to imply that they want to erase their God from the process and goal of theosis and replace the sacramental scaffolding with the human ego.
The first question, I believe, comes from Neo-Platonic influences on religious (in the case of the conference, Christian) thought. I don’t argue that our souls and the fullness of our being should be comprised, materia prima, of longing and love for the Gods. I think it is the only part of us that truly matters. When we peel away the dross and pollution of modern living (hell, just of living because let’s face it, the ancients wrestled with these issues too), at our core I firmly believe that (when we are rightly ordered), our spirits are expressed longing for the Gods. I also think that every single thing in our current world teaches us to obscure, deny, and annihilate that longing.
I will admit, listening to this particular speaker, I did think “well, aren’t you a bit of an optimist about the human condition” lol but it’s important to remind ourselves not to mistake external ephemera for the true, essential nature of our beings. I also suspect that this statement: that at the core of a soul is longing for the Gods may make some readers angry. If so, consider why. Why would you not long for the Gods with every fibre of your being? I think the real challenge of our various spiritualities is not only the discovery of that longing, recognizing it as our essential state of being, but also cultivating it, tending that fire, stripping away the dross, feeding it, and allowing it to burn away everything else.
A day or so before I came into the city for the conference, I was watching a movie with my husband and a friend and the lead female reminded me strongly in appearance of a student – call her H.– I had over twenty years ago. This student was three or four days away from her initiation and bailed. She became pissy about it too, justifying her decision by trashing the idea of the experiential devotion inherent in the initiatory process (as being only relevant to specialists. “Not everyone needs to be a mystic” blah blah blah. No, not everyone does, but baseline devotion does not a mystic make). A friend of mine who was hanging out with us asked me why this woman would do such a thing. I said “at the eleventh hour she realized initiation would change everything.” My friend agreed but didn’t see the problem (unlike H. my friend is not a spiritual coward). I explained that “H. didn’t want to make the Gods a priority in her life. She was afraid it might interfere with her secular, job-related priorities of climbing the corporate ladder and making money. She didn’t want to become the kind of person she thought could live a devoted life and she didn’t want to have to reprioritize her life.” My friend asked the most salient question of the night, “Didn’t she realize that putting the Gods first makes everything better? On the basest most crass level, They help us in our work in the world. They fill our lives with bounty and blessings.” And that is the question. My only response was a poem by the Islamic poet Rabi’a:
O my Lord,
if I worship you
from fear of hell, burn me in hell.
If I worship you
from hope of Paradise, bar me from its gates.
But if I worship you
for yourself alone, grant me then the beauty of your Face.
(Rabi’a, “[O my Lord]” translated by Jane Hirshfield, from Women in Praise of the Sacred (New York: Harper Collins, 1994).)
I will let this stand for now and move on to the second question or comment really, since I wrote it down because I have very strong feelings that the Gods owe us nothing. They may give us everything but They don’t owe us. We ought not give sacrifices and offerings just to get things, but because it is the right thing to do, because it honors Them, because those relationships are the most essential we will ever have and it is right and proper to make windows into the world through which the Gods may walk. It isn’t and shouldn’t be about us. Yes, at times offerings and devotion may follow a do ut des model – if I need something from a Deity, I won’t approach with empty hands. It’s rude. But that is not the only nor the most essential model of veneration. To imply that it is cheapens our traditions and frankly spits in the faces of our ancestors. It shouldn’t be “I give in order to receive” but “I give because I have received” or maybe better still, “I give because I love.”
Returning to the bullet points I noted, I was struck by the idea articulated in bullet point #2 that God owes humanity His grace by virtue of the contract of creation but the debt is NOT one owed to humanity itself but rather to His own goodness. In other words, God owes Himself. It’s a nice reframing and re-articulation of an issue that plagues the Heathen community: the entitlement we all too often feel before our Gods. We are not owed a god damned thing for the paltry devotion we deign to show. We have been given everything and it is a debt we cannot hope to replay. The devotional relationships that we ought to cultivate with our Gods aren’t for the purpose of getting things, or even with any hope of repayment of a contract. It is our natural, good, and rightly ordered state of being. It is our purpose, the highest and most natural expression of our souls.
Finally, one of the issues that kept coming up in post-modernist pushback against scholastic and pre-scholastic ideas of theosis was this language of “excess” in devotion. One source talked about the “excess of the crucifixion” rather the excess of devotional response to it. I see this in some modern Catholics. Case in point: I recently gave a Catholic relative L. Montfort’s classic devotional text on Mary and while she is very devout she really struggled with it, because it wasn’t Jesus focused in the way that many Protestant “devotionals” might be. The idea of giving reverence and specifically heart-felt devotion to the Mother of God—in the way that was traditional, licit, and universal within her tradition for generations– was uncomfortable (and I blame Vatican II and its bullshit for a lot of this but, not my circus, not my monkeys. I do find it complicated though. Gods know that the weakening of the organizational Catholic Church is not a bad thing for growing polytheisms, but then on the other side of that, I think that any weakening of devotional fervor is a win for evil and doesn’t serve us in our devotions either so …my response to that all is rather complicated). It seemed “excessive” to her. Post-moderns would, I believe, cast any devotion as excessive. This is problematic.
Personally, I do not believe it is possible to be too excessive in one’s fervor and love for one’s Gods. That is exactly what ought to fuel our soul’s longing, feed it, nourish it, encourage it. Whenever I hear Pagans or Polytheists (and especially Heathens) talk about how one is too excessive in one’s devotions (and it happens, less now than a decade ago but it still happens) I really just want to laugh in their faces and tell them they are theologically unschooled. Not today, Heathen child, not today. This is a bullshit free zone. Still, I think it’s important to think about what it is in our culture (that has seeped into our traditions) that would teach us that devotion, any devotion particularly the messy, emotional, embodied kind is ‘excessive.’ What does that mean? When loving the Gods is our souls’ reason for being, how can there be any excess?
This last question I’m going to explore more fully and hopefully will have time to do so over the next couple of days. Right now, I’m going to bring this to a close since it’s running rather long and I actually need to get my butt up and get out the door for day two of this amazing conference. Enjoy your day, folks.
So…Sweden is considering a ban on the runes and other Heathen symbols. Wildhunt to date doesn’t seem to have covered this– no surprise there. What Heathen groups I have seen touching on it have been excusing it. I haven’t seen medievalists up in arms about it either. Are you people out of your fucking minds?
What is next? Banning Heathenry? That is the logical conclusion to a globalist program that considers any expression of indigenous religious culture a hate crime.
The reasons this is being considered are, of course, supposedly to prevent white supremacist groups from using these symbols. I don’t, however, see any proposed ban of the cross or the crescent. In the end, it doesn’t matter WHY this is being considered. If you give an inch to a tyrant, they will take a mile. We should be up in arms about this. In fact, every devout community, Pagan, Polytheist, Heathen, or otherwise should be up in arms over this religious discrimination. Where will it be focused next?
Let’s look at exactly what Sweden is proposing to ban. It’s quite interesting.
Tyr rune- warriorship, justice, truth, honor
Othala rune: ancestral consciousness, inheritance, protection, homeland, wealth
Valknot – a symbol of Odin/Woden.
Vegisvir: a rune sigil for safe travel, finding one’s way
And….the Thor’s hammer, a symbol of protection, sanctity, and Heathen identity.
Their choices do not seem accidental.
I never thought much about this until recently – the Gods are Gods and I never found it necessary to interrogate the forms They seek to take much beyond that. Today, however, I was reading an article about how many able-bodied people don’t seethose with disabilities (or how they sometimes act in paternalistic ways toward them) and I had an epiphany: what a blessing that we have Gods Who chose to manifest in scarred or disabled bodies. What a powerful way of saying “you are seen, acknowledged, recognized, and valued” by our Holy Powers. What a powerful way of the Gods aligning Themselves with our experience.
I have actually written about this before. A couple of years ago there was a bit of a brouhaha over the fact that one of Hephaestus’ epithets is “the Lame God.” Far from being a slur, this is noted as a point of power for Him. It is part of His identity, integral to His timai as a God of crafting and blacksmithing, transformation, and fire. It is where His ability to bring beauty into being comes from. (Y’all can read that piece here.)
As a Heathen, I venerate the Norse Gods, belonging specifically to Odin. Odin’s story, His mysteries are intensely embodied. He is a God of ordeal, subjecting Himself to physical pain for power. He is also missing an eye (having sacrificed it willingly for a draught from the Well of Mimir). One of His sons Hodr is blind. By some accounts, Heimdall sacrificed an ear for the same reasons Odin gave an eye. Tyr is missing His sword-hand. Weyland the Smith is physically lame. I’ll take this one step further: one of Odin’s heiti is Geldnir, or eunuch. For a God almost defined by His sexual exploits, Who is called All-Father, I find it fascinating that one of the ways in which He may also present Himself is as a eunuch. What is going on here?
To quote my former article (sorry, folks. I have a blistering headache today so best I can do):
“The qualities teased out in the ritual naming of Gods, in Their by-names, epithets, and cultic titles provide crucial information on the nature of a Deity’s mysteries. For us to disregard a title because it offends our sensitivities or makes us uncomfortable, or even because we haven’t taken the time to search its meaning in our own practices is not only short-sided but potentially hubristic as well. Many cultic titles were in use for generations. When Homer, for instance, refers to Hephaistos as lame, which he does multiple times, he’s employing a set formula to tell us something very important about this God. I’m not sure why people would want to discard these epithets so unthinkingly. They are worth both examination and meditation.”
It’s important not to condemn or avoid exploration of those epithets that challenge us, or make us question, or even more, make us uncomfortable. The last thing we want to do is delete those epithets from our devotional consciousness. They provide insights into our Gods, insights that may help us too.
As a disabled woman, I need never, ever feel that my disability in some way separates me from my Gods (and while I’ve never felt this way that I’m aware of, I know that this has been a very painful issue for some of my clients). By presenting Themselves in forms that are in some way differently abled, I believe our Gods are consciously including those of us whose bodies are different. Years and years ago, in 2000 if I recall correctly, I gave the required lecture on modern Paganisms and Polytheisms at the interfaith seminary where I taught. We were asked to include an experiential portion and so I included a powerful invocation and then call and response chant to the Goddess Sekhmet. Almost every woman in the audience was moved to tears and several told me later that they’d never even conceived of a Holy Power that was both powerful and female. Perhaps representation does matter: when we can see ourselves in our Gods, it is easier for us to build devotional relationships with Them, to feel as though They are accessible to us and our experiences. We need not twist the images of our Gods out of true in order to accommodate this and we shouldn’t do this anyway. Everything we need is already there in the way the Gods choose to engage with us.
A theology colleague (Greek Orthodox) asked me recently if as a polytheist, I believed in some ultimate single force behind all the Gods and creation. My answer surprised him and I’ve been thinking about it and parsing it out ever since. No. I don’t. I think at best, any idea of “the One” is a philosophical concept, perhaps a place holder for the activities of the individual Gods in individual instances governing creation and being. (1)
The Gods maybe yoked together in purpose: collaborating in the act of creation (all creation stories being true μύθους) but that is a different thing from there being a single unity overseeing it all (2). I think that once the collective act of creation was set into being, once materiality and temporality were created and thus wyrd activated, the process itself took on an unfolding life of its own.
In talking about this with my housemates, one of them brought up Wyrd as perhaps that force beyond the Gods but I had to disagree. Wyrd is inherently yoked to temporality and materiality. It is inter-generational by its very construction (we can inherit wyrd –ancestral debt –from our ancestors and even in the best of situations are not separate from the wyrd of our family lines). I posited that the Gods are yoked to wyrd only insofar as they choose to remain yoked to temporality, to our world, to the world that They Themselves created. Do They need to be bound in this manner? No, I don’t think so. Yet we have in Greek, the story of Zeus sacrificing His son Sarpedon, Whom He loved on the field of battle because if He did not, it would be a breach of the very divine order He created. We have Baldr being forced to Helheim, so that part of the generative order of Asgard would remain protected and safe in the haven of the dead should Ragnarok occur, in other words, should any external breach of that order spiral out of control. I don’t think They need to remain connected to our material and temporal world. I think They choose to do so. (3)
All creation stories are true if we accept that in collaborating to create, the Gods tied Themselves to specific languages, peoples, lands through which They could express Themselves most clearly. No, I am not saying that Mercury is Odin or Thor Herakles or any such thing. (4) I’m saying that specific Gods chose to order a specific piece of the cosmic tapestry They All collectively chose to create. (5) A more intriguing question than that of an a priori “One” is how the Holy chasm, Holy nothingness that is full of all potentiality, Ginnungagap is related to the Gods prior to creation. That, however is beyond the scope of this particular piece. The collaboration of creation is itself a powerful Mystery, to know that the tapestry of the order of the worlds is sustained and support by so many individual Gods working together, each in Their own sphere of Power. Perhaps if we must speak of a “one” it is the result of that collaboration: the process being born of that collective will, a thing that comes from our Gods rather that precedes Them and which has no independent being or consciousness or capacity to act without Them. (6)
- There are instances that point to the Gods praying, or at least making offerings. Freya for instance, is called the Blótere– sacrificial priest – of the Gods. To Whom are They offering? I think that perhaps They are sustaining individually and collectively each other in maintaining right and holy order, sustaining the process itself and directing Their collective maegen toward its continued unfolding.
- I use the Greek word μύθους because it is far richer and more inclusively complex than its English equivalent. It may refer to something worth retelling or recalling. It implies sacred stories that are true in the way that sacred things can be, outside of temporal reality or rationality.
- I reject categorically any notion that the Gods are dependent in some way on us. That is a violation of natural order. The Gods as living immortals may choose – and what a grace that They do – to have contact with us, relationships, etc., but that is different from being dependent. It is our privilege to honor Them and participate in cultusand we are bettered by it. They too may receive something from it, but I don’t think it is something without which They are unable to function. To say that They require us is the same as saying that we are equal to Them, or that They are dependent on us and such a thing with Gods cannot be. It elevates us far beyond our natural and wholesome station.
- I would also argue that this isn’t want interpretatio romanaor graeca was doing either.
- As an artist, I know that there is a satisfaction, a deep joy in creating, in architecture, Art, bringing Beauty to life. I often wonder if that sense of wonder and delight was experienced by the Gods at the moment They not only created materiality and temporality, but also crafted humanity, the Idea taking shape in Their collective minds before being shaped into reality and seeing that reality coming to life — and what grief there must be when we betray Them and our divine patrimony through the destruction of Beauty and our world. I’m not talking about war, which I think is also an expression of parts of Their power, but conscious, degenerate destruction of that which ennobles and elevates, conscious turning away from the creation of the Beautiful. I sometimes wonder if the Gods regret Their choice to breathe life into two chunks of driftwood…
- I do think there is an inherent reciprocity between us and the Gods. They have given this to us and it is for us to maintain. That is what I often refer to as one of the most ancient of covenants, using that word to imply the sacred nature of this compact. Again, however, it does not imply in any way that They are dependent upon us. Quite the opposite, actually.