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by Dr. E. Kelly
I made a mistake once
And took You for the loser girlfriend of a loser God.
You could sew my lips shut for saying so
Certainly the same thing’s been done before
And that punishment was for insulting a dwarf
Much less a Goddess
You, however, are merciful
You are mercy Herself
Seething grief and rage corrodes like venom
Dribbling, well-earned on Your husband’s forehead
Tit for tat, tit for tat, tit for tat
This is the sound the drops make as they fall
You interrupt that righteous anger of the Aesir
You interpose yourself
Lifting a bowl to catch the drops of liquid pain
You come between crime and punishment
And He can breathe
A moment’s peace
When every bond is broken and all Hel breaks loose
When He comes crazy-eyed and howling at the helm of all that was held down
I’ll be glad You spent so many thousand years at His side
Last week an academic friend and colleague, who is soon to be teaching a class on Pagans and Christians in the Roman Empire, asked me a rather complicated question. My friend L. plans to include a brief survey of contemporary Pagan and Polytheistic religions as part of the course, to show that these traditions did not completely disappear but continue to have import and impact in the modern day. As prep for the course, L. asked me, “What is the difference between Pagan (or Neo-pagan) and Polytheist?” I had previously mentioned that use of these terms is somewhat political and charged in our communities.(1) Here is what I told my colleague.
“Oh, it’s such a mess.
The two words, in my opinion, should be synonymous but in today’s communities, they’re not. Polytheist means someone who believes in and venerates the Gods as individual, Holy beings. The logical and necessary corollary then, is the rightness of regular devotion and cultus. One would think this is self-explanatory. The meaning, after all, is embedded in the etymology of the word itself: πολύ (many) θέοι (Gods). We have, however, had atheists who call themselves “Pagan” try to claim the identity “Polytheist” on occasion, but for now, every time they crop up, we manage to beat them back (rather like a demented game of whack-a-mole). It’s almost as though the moment the devout make space for themselves, it comes under attack, and this isn’t just an issue in polytheism (2).
While the definition of ‘Polytheist’ is self-explanatory, ‘Pagan’ is more complicated. Some polytheists will use the term. But maybe four years ago there was a huge inter community explosion over it.(3) There were growing attempts A) to allow for “Pagan” to include non-theist, anti-theist, atheists, etc. as well as pop culture ‘pagans’ who can’t tell the difference between fiction and devotion and other questionable um…characters (Mind you, L., I’m hardly unbiased in this and I was right in the middle of these arguments.) and B) to force polytheistic traditions under the “Neo-pagan” umbrella, which at its core was an attempt to erase our traditions, esp. the piety of our traditions, and to force them to open their boundaries to anyone and anything.(4) The “battle” raged over blogs and newsgroups and finally many leading polytheists (against my better judgment) decided to yield the term ‘Pagan’. So now anyone who has any connection to any god or goddess (regardless of whether or not they believe in Them to be archetypes as opposed to reality, or this nonsense about all deities being one, or whether they are only interested in nature or whether they’re Marxists interfering in our communities for their own political agenda, or whatever kind of trash you may have) can claim the word without having a core of any type of tradition or devotion. So, ‘Pagan’ has become a catch all term.
Most devout polytheists I know, especially those who fought through this, won’t use the term “Pagan” now. The Gods and Their devotion are at the heart of our practices. ‘Pagan’ has become a term where that is no longer necessarily the case. Of course, the moment we ceded the term, the non and anti-theists started trying to claim “Polytheist” too, but so far we’ve successfully beaten them back. It’s never ending but there are those of us who will hold that line until we are all of us dust. Our Gods and traditions deserve that at least, from us.
I’d also add that part of the problem is that Polytheism involves traditions, which are closed containers. Neo-pagans scream that this is elitist and amounts to policing devotion (unless we’re talking about one of the African Traditional Religions when they are less likely to complain, because that might be construed as appropriative and racist.). Polytheists respond: that’s the way traditions work, either adapt yourself to them or fuck off. And so it goes. It’s a nasty, ongoing feud with those who care about what their Gods might require and those who barely register that Gods exist.
So, unlike in the ancient world where ‘Pagan’ referred to someone practicing their ancestral tradition and/or initiated into various mystery cultus, today it refers to someone practicing any of the many …religions…which may or may not include devotion to the Gods…that grew out of Gerald Gardner’s explorations into Wicca and occultism in the fifties and later out of the counter-culture movement in the 60s and 70s in the United States. It may also refer to those practicing and restoring various Polytheistic traditions like Heathenry, Asatru, Kemetic orthodoxy, Hellenismos, Romuva, etc. but in majority quarters, it is no longer the term of choice, particularly in the US community for such.
Heathenry, (Norse polytheism), always eschewed the term because it was always an umbrella term for a mishmash of traditions and practices, many excessively liberal, or diametrically opposed to devotion, or containing ethical standards (or lack thereof) that Heathens and other polytheists found problematic. The problem is more complicated in Europe where the various romance languages have ONLY the term ‘Pagan’ to cover a broad spectrum of traditions.
Basically, the conflict is about modernity, religious identity, and a push back against devotion and piety.
As a caveat, you will still find people who aren’t very much online using ‘Pagan’ when they are very devout…it depends on how aware they were of the online arguments. Our hashing out of orthodoxy, because of how spread out our communities are, tends to happen online but one should not think that the online world encompasses the whole of any tradition or practice. There are many devout Polytheists (and probably Pagans too) whose practice centers around hearth and home, land, community, and their Gods and whose window into the greater world of practice doesn’t necessarily come through the internet.
It should also be noted that there are Polytheists who obstinately refuse to cede the term Pagan and still use it, solely to spit in the eye of the impious. I like these folks. 🙂 And newbies coming into the communities also tend not to be aware of the political fault lines either.
It’s always worth querying when someone says “I’m Pagan,” what they mean by that. The answers might surprise you.”
- Especially now since Isaac Bonewits is the one who originally pioneered usage of the terminology “Neo-Pagan.”
- The problem isn’t atheists per se. If someone wants to attend a ritual and behaves respectfully that’s fine. The problem is ad nauseum, atheists who come into our communities, demand leadership positions, but refuse to accommodate the traditions or bow themselves to the beauty of devotion. Instead, they endlessly attempt to twist the religion to their own lowest common denominator. This isn’t a problem only in Polytheistic traditions. It’s happening in various Monotheisms as well. For a case in point see here. (I particular love how the minister in question complains her church puts theology over ethics. Um, yes. It’s a religion. Theology matters and moreover, you’ve already proven you have no ethics by impersonating a Christian and minister).
- I would estimate between 2011-2014.
- Polytheisms tend to have far more traditional values, sexual ethics, and much more of a focus on devotional piety than any generic Paganism. They also tend to encompass mystery cultus, which are exclusionary by their very nature, solid lineages, and strict ways of doing things. They are not generally religions in which “anything goes” spiritually or morally, all too often unlike their Pagan counterparts.
by Fiona Y.
Enfold me again, in white feather warmth
Blossom scented Sigyn,
Delicate, as the slightest breeze
Yet with Audhumlas’ nurturing strength.
You, whose sweet song
Guides me to Ginnungapaps’ balmy heart
Where I find You dancing,
Free as a bird.
Your laughter is joyful.
You are sweetness, my goddesss
You, a young girl,
Rambling through Your garden of herbs.
You, an older girl,
Drawing the heart of the flame haired god.
You nourished me,
When I was most worn
And tho You come gently,
Sigyn, I know that Yours is a will of steel.
For Loki’s wife is strong
She has endured loss and venom and scorn.
by Thomas S.
Thomas S. says: After reading your prompt for the Sigyn Agon, I sat and wrote the following in one sitting. I suppose I would describe it as imagining what it would have been like for Sigyn and Loki exiting the cavern, from Sigyn’s perspective. Please leave a note that this submission is merely a fiction dedicated to Sigyn, not a claim to any visionary experience of Her life. 🙂
And His chest heaves like a ship trapped against the rocks, each wave cracking the hull deeper yet. The eyes swirl in their sockets as blizzard snow, seeing not even horror now, the whites gone crimson, envenomed tears of mucus coursing down. His mouth is Ginnungagap, not screaming.
I will not speak of why We gained Our freedom, not here.
The coils of Our slaughtered Son’s bowel I sling about My shoulders, and the ropes of My filthy hair begin to drip with His blood. As My Husband twitches upon the slab of his incarceration, the serpent hisses, flickers out its tongue at Us from on high. I meet its gaze, and it yawns out fleshy fangs at Me, its Mistress’ wrath still ensorcelled into its soul. But Sigyn has a power unto Her own, and no more does She carry the weight of this thing’s spit. I hold the serpent in My vision, and wrath cannot match Me now. The serpent is still, a moment… then abandons its post, seeking the refuge of some deeper cavern.
Loki cannot stand. His body transformed, His arms and legs like wind-shook branches, He rolls from the stone and spasms, choking, groaning.
And so I lift Him, carry Him, My Husband. Because I cannot do otherwise. I leave the bowl.
Every step towards the mouth of the cave was beyond My endurance, and yet I endure. The weight of My Child’s torn gut, mantle of heartbreak, is heavier than a chain of iron. My Husband hangs scatter-limbed, crying out without words. My knees should shatter. My elbows ought to tear asunder. They do not. I should be shaking from crown to roots with ache. I ought to be screaming with the struggle of it. I do not.
Beyond the mouth of the cave, a forest. It is midnight, but Máni slowly unveils from beyond a cloud. I am washed in silver. I march down the rocky slope into the midst of pines and spruces. I lay My Husband upon the moss, where, in His fever, He whimpers as if it were a bed of jagged stone. His mad-wheeling eyes catch Máni, and for once, they halt, spell-bound by the white light.
I drop Our Son’s last remnant on the ground, and fall to My knees from relief. A sharp rock, then, to saw through the long matted locks heavy with His blood. It takes time, but I bear with it. Loki gazes at Máni, His mouth still hanging vast with Ginnungagap, silent. At last My hair is cut, and I cast the ropes upon My Son’s gut. I grab at chunks of dried dead moss, mass them with the hair and bowel. Then I stumble about Me, reaching for broken twigs and branches, piling them, slowly, slowly. The world spins around Me in the depth of My exhaustion, but I gather debris and build. Máni rides higher and higher, and as He reaches His zenith, I have built a fitting pyre, rude though it may be.
“Loki,” I whisper, My throat so dry that My voice rattles ghostly as His Daughter’s. “Can You conjure a flame?”
My Husband does not respond.
A sob gasps out, and it is a moment before I realize it is Mine. Perhaps Ginnungagap has swallowed the whole of Him, left Me only this scarecrow. I do not know. I am lost.
Máni steps out of the sky, His mighty mane of hair shining behind Him. Great strides He is taking down a stair that I cannot see, and He glows so mightily that I cannot yet see His face. He is singing, a great throbbing voice that is impossible, thunderously quiet, deafeningly gentle. Loki quakes at His advance.
“I greet You, Sigyn, and You, Loki,” the heavenly God calls. Now He is close, and His light fades–or My eyes strengthen–so that I can see the beauty of His face, somehow boy and youth and aged man, all ages of life there. He smiles. He is in tears. His tears turn to moonstones as they hit the earth. He advances, until His feet are on the earth beside Us.
“And I you, Máni,” I manage through My parched mouth. I cannot muster fine words now. “We are free.”
“Your Husband’s soul is wandering the Void.” Another moonstone forms upon the moss. “He drifts on the waters of oblivion. It is a relief from His madness.”
“How shall We call him back?” Something in Me holds back against a black howl of despair. I will not collapse into the lethargy of fatalism. I cannot endure it, and yet I endure.
“Sing with Me.”
Our voices rise, His deep and ancient, pulling on the world with all the strength of tide, Mine keening and broken, piercing even into Ginnungagap. We weave together, wife’s love and stranger’s compassion, twirling, skirling, calling, falling, flying, sighing. Yes, We sing. The trees’ souls shiver and weep, and, without the touch of wind, their branches sway and churn.
Loki twitches. He blinks, staring at Máni still. His eyes flick towards Me. Then to the pile of Our Son’s desecrated gut. Then to the forest around us. He sucks a breath deeper than a bellows.
His scream cracks through My soul like the thrust of a sword, and Máni presses a shining hand to His eyes, weeping silently.
Loki jerks upright, panting, gasping. His skin roils and twitches, incipient with mutation, His shapeshifter power rising. His eyes bulge and the pupils turn to slits, fangs jut from his jaw–
Máni puts a hand upon Loki’s cheek. “You know Me, Loki,” He murmurs, gazing into the tiger eyes. He leans in, fearless, and kisses the Mad-God on the lips.
Loki sits motionless as a statue.
Máni turns to Me and nods. “Yours is the power, Blessed One,” He says to Me. Then He steps into the sky. “I am missed from My post. I must return. I wish You both joy.” He walks heavenwards, His song slowly fading, His form reassuming the nature of a sphere.
How I have the strength to dance now will ever be a Mystery. But now I leap into motion about My Husband, My limbs shaking off the weight of accursed subterranean ages, as He gazes at me in still and silent wonder. I call to the pyre, and the spirit of Fire moves through Me, sparks dancing down My arms and legs, leaping into the moss and branches. Smoke begins to unfurl. Warmth awakens.
“You know this dance!” I cry in My ragged voice to Loki, and something almost like a smile steals across that wasted visage.
The trees’ souls cry out to Me in ecstasy. I begin to move through forms of Myself. A girl is before Loki, still crowned in flowers. His newly-wed is here, Her locks braided and tied into a golden crown upon her brow. I am a mother, with tears of joy in My eyes. I am the Bowl-Bearer, face in unbreakable resolve. I am an aged woman as yet unreached. I dance through a witch’s hame, a warrioress’, a queen’s. I manifest forms as mortals cannot comprehend.
Now He leaps to His feet, reels, lurches, but I dance about Him, My hands at His waist, holding Him steady. A curious, blood-chilling laugh sounds from His mouth, but it is Loki, and the Void does not silent-roar from between his teeth.
The fire rises, consuming the defilement of My poor Narvi, releasing that desecration into the purity of smoke and cinder. His holy blood is released, as well, My hair burning but the smell somehow not bitter, instead sweet as juniper incense. Loki begins to dance with Me, around Me. He laughs again, louder, and the trees shout to Him. He roars and He kisses Me fiercely. He sobs and weeps and moans and laughs yet again. I wrap My arms about Him in a close embrace, hold Him again. He howls in adoration.
“Will you help Him?” I cry to the trees.
Their assent comes in a susurrus of shivering limbs. They consent to the offering.
Loki explodes into the nature of Fire. Trees burst as He seethes outwards in all directions, wrapping tongue-limbs around the trees and boiling their sap. He sucks the life out of them. Their bark incandesces into red-hot coals, their limbs into a crackling wave of fire. He races in every direction, sucking the forest into His famished form, and bathing My body in blissful warmth.
When Sunna rises, the earth smokes. We are surrounded by the barest black husks of the sacrifices. Loki’s limbs are full and strong, His eyes steady and clear. His hair flows down in a beautiful mane of red and gold. My own is washed clean, My skin luminous and flushed from My Husband’s touch.
And We stand bright and strong, raising Our hands in grim salute to Sunna, in blessed thanks to Máni as He disappears below the horizon.
We walk in freedom, all the worlds before Us.
The winner of Hathor’s Agon is Ptahmassu Nofra-U’aa for this piece. Congratulations, Ptahmassu. I’ll be in touch about your prize.
Everyone who contributed receives a Hathor prayer card — folks, email me with your mailing info and thank you for making this Agon successful. It’s a good thing to create beautiful prayers, poems, art, etc. for our Gods, a very good thing.
The winner for Odin’s Agon is Ellen. Thank you, everyone for your marvelous submissions. I’m really glad I”m doing these via divination because I could never, ever choose. Every submission was really powerful.
Those of you who submitted, please contact me with your mailing addresses. Everyone receives an Odin prayer card. Ellen, I”ll be in touch with you about your prize.
This isn’t a submission for Sigyn’s Agon. I don’t submit pieces for consideration to my own Agons! This is, however, something to get the ball rolling. Her agon runs through January 31, 9pm EST.
Five for Sigyn
We praise You, Lady of Constancy, Whose heart never wavers in Her devotion.
We praise You, Victory Woman, Whose strength is that of unending endurance.
We praise You, North Star, Whose virtue will never be diminished.
We praise You, Wife of Loki, beloved Jewel of His hall, cherished beyond measure.
We praise You, Incantation Fetter, Whose touch brings healing and liberation.
We praise You, Mother of Two clever Sons, loss and glory and love everlasting.
Oh, Lady Strong as the Mountain!
Oh, Love Longer Lasting than the Stars!
Oh, Sweet and Ferocious Devotion!
Oh, Never-swerving Power!
Oh, Heart of Loki’s Hall!
Ever and always shall You be praised, Sigyn.
(by G. Krasskova)
A friend of mine told me about a meme that’s going around, people doing 100 days of something consecutively for 15 minutes a day. She had chosen to do an hundred days of devotion to her patron Deity and I decided to do the same for Apollo, starting in the new year.
I specifically chose Apollo because of an unfortunate incident that happened when I was studying (with a study group) for my ‘History of Christianity’ final. We had been given a whole list of names, about which we had to write a few sentences (the professor gave us a “syllabus” for the final exam, so we knew exactly what to study). One of those names was Apollinaris the younger, who in the wake of Julian’s proscription that Christians could not teach (sensible. He said that one could not teach what one did not believe and the Homeric corpus was a huge part of education at the time), rewrote the Old Testament in the style of Homer and Pindar, and the New Testament as a pseudo-Platonic dialogue.
We were sharing mnemonics for persons and dates and one of the students said that she remembers Apollinaris because “Apollo doesn’t exist…” and I was just floored. I think I sat there with my mouth hanging open, so taken aback that I didn’t know what to say. We were little more than a half hour away from an exam and she comes up with something so impious that I was physically nauseous. I made a comment to the effect that Apollonaris may not have been intelligent enough to think otherwise, but many Pagans of the time loved and honored Him. In the course of the ensuing conversation I also made it clear that I venerate Apollo but I still walked away feeling unclean and deeply ashamed that it had taken me so long (out of shock) to formulate an appropriate response. I’ve done div on the matter and know that everything is more than fine between me and Apollo and I have no logical reason to feel ashamed, but I do. This, therefore, is my small way of honoring Him, and making amends.
So, I decided that starting Jan. 1 for the next hundred days, I’ll be making a small offering at His shrine and studying Greek. Each day I will read something and translate it for fifteen minutes and then go to His shrine and make the appropriate offerings. (I just finished day one, reading and translating a story about a contest between Boreas and Helios as to Which was stronger. I’ve likewise made offerings to both Apollo and Asklepios, because Asklepios is also awesome).
I wanted to post about this here because I think this is a great challenge. I read somewhere that it takes about thirty days of consistent work to break or build a habit. I can think of no better habit that I might want to build than one of daily devotion to a God I love. Hail Apollo.
For Your protection,
I thank You.
For Your grace and blessings,
I am grateful.
Teach me to honor You fully and well,
Teach me to love You
Until there is nothing else extant
In those spaces of my heart
Parceled out to You.
The Agon for Odin and the Agon for Hathor is now closed. I will post the winners tomorrow. Have a good New Year, folks.
The Agon for January is for Sigyn. The winner will receive a collection of Her prayer cards and a copy of my book ‘Lady of the STaying Power.” January’s agon runs until January 31, 9pm EST.