A lovely morning prayer from The House of Vines:
A piece from my Polytheist Hymnal. I greet the day in joy, my heart in awe at the beauty of the cosmos.Hail to you Gods of the heavens, and the earth, and those below.Hail Gods of the mountains and the forest,Gods of the mighty rivers and the towering trees.Hail Gods of the desert and the […]Morning Prayer — The House of Vines
I was at the physical therapy rehabilitation center today visiting my husband, who is recovering from sepsis. It’s a dismal place. The staff is overworked. They’re ok and do their best but with pain and illness comes miasma and left untreated it erodes hope and depresses the spirit. Hospitals and healing centers, rehabilitation centers and such are not clean spaces. They should be, but we have a long way to go. It’s not the fault of our medical teams, who are working under stressful circumstances, often with little time to rest, and always it seems understaffed. I pray for them often from the janitors who clean the trash, to maintenance men who fix the windows, to the nursing assistants, nurses, and all the various doctors and medical professionals as well as the administrators who are tasked with keeping such places up and running. I pray all the time for them and when I am there, in my husband’s room, I do small rites of purification and ask for blessings throughout the space.
These places are dangerous spiritually. We have forgotten that with illness comes that which would feed upon illness and make it worse. I will speak as a spirit worker now and those who can hear and understand, let them. Those who cannot, well, I hope you will pray for our health care workers, and for those in their care that each receive what he or she needs to emerge whole and hale. I say as a spirit worker that in these places there are bottom feeding spirits-evil spirits, nasty wicked things that feed on the vulnerable and there are those who are even beset by such things, twisted evil entities who torment those suffering, adding to their misery and pain (1). I did chaplaincy work in my twenties (I was terrible at it – what does a twenty-year-old know about life and counseling those in pain? There is the will but not yet the experience. I look at medical residents who seem so painfully young and see the same terror at confronting patients in pain that I myself experienced when I was first sent up to the cancer ward as a volunteer chaplain) but hospitals and medical centers are so much worse now. The walls reek with misery, despair, loss, confusion, pain, anger, and exhaustion. It is a breeding ground for anything but healing. I cleanse before I walk in. I ward myself while I’m there including wearing the best piece of spiritual technology I was ever taught: the white headwrap. I cleanse and make offerings when I leave. Hell, sometimes I carry a spritzer bottle of khernips and cleanse everything I can. I bring cookies to the nurses and tell them how much I appreciate their work—it lifts their spirits and I do appreciate how hard they work. I do what I can to better the space.
One of my allied spirits was a healer in life, long, long ago. He accompanies me sometimes and becomes furious when he sees what passes for Houses of healing. In the hospital, he looked around when we came in and hissed that this should be a House of Life and he blessed it all in fury at how dehumanizing to staff and residents alike the hospital was. One of the things that horrifies him is the lack of prayers, blessings, and purifications done on the space throughout the day. Then there is also the endless noise. How does one heal in such an environment? Only by the grace of the Gods. Even the staff are beaten down. It infuriates him to see men and women who don’t realize (or if they do realize it, are blocked from acting upon it by the demands of the modern medical apparatus) that they are there to restore and bring life and healing when they can, and a respectful holy space for death when they cannot.
The rehabilitation space is better – the hospital was a trauma center so there was death and terrible injury, people being brought in by helicopter and that was a much more intense level of spiritual miasma than the hospital at which I once worked. Still, the nursing home/rehabilitation space is still not clean space. It is filled with suffering and despair. When I walk in to visit my husband, each day, I walk past a room where an elderly woman lies, screaming, face distorted in a rictus of pain. She is tormented both by the decay of her body, the confusion of her mind, but also by an attack upon her being by a wicked spirit. It roared as I passed, and the noise never abated. I wanted to go in and lay hands on her in blessing, to pray, to purify, to do whatever I could to bring her back to herself and free her of her torment. It is one thing to have dementia or whatever is bringing her confusion and another to have atop that a beast that feeds on and augments that. One of the nurses said she keeps a journal where she records the weird, “supernatural” things that she has seen since starting her job. Some of them have frightened her. Going in to engage with that patient, however, was not my warrant, and I did not do it, but it physically hurt to do nothing, to see her in such anguish (and she was not the only one)(2). The spirit tormenting her writhed at the presence of a spirit worker and orpheotelest and shrieked taunts to me and my husband, yelling out things the woman herself could not know. Such is the way of these lowly, debased creatures (and by this, I mean the spirits not the women, who deserve compassion and care).
So, when I left, I walked down the hall praying to all the healing Gods I could. “Apollo, please bless these people.” “Jesus” – after all most patients are probably nominally Christian, “please keep them safe.” “Eir, please watch over those in need of healing.” “Hermes, please protect the staff.” “Asclepius, please bless each and every resident here.” And I lingered on my prayers to Asclepius because it seemed right to do so and He seemed particularly present.
Just as I was approaching the doors to the ward, which were closed, a man appeared. He had not been there before. He was a tall, late middle aged, very distinguished black man, with the kindest eyes and the most elegant manner. He was carrying medical equipment and I just remember his eyes. He radiated peace and such a tremendous sense of well-being it took my breath away. I believe this man was Asclepius, that I met a God upon Whom I had called in my need. We exchanged a few words and with those words He blessed me. As I walked to the elevator, having thanked him for his kindness, so much of the weight and miasma I’d been carrying disappeared and I felt that He had cleansed me of all the long term, never-ending miasma that seeps into one’s very skin in such places. His smile was like the warmth of a parent’s hug, a cool drink of water, the warmth of a wink of sun on a cold, overcast day. My words and poetry fail me. My prayers were heard, and I was given the gift of seeing a God take flesh. Later, my husband told me that where things were usually a battle with constant delays and problems, today was different. Things got done, and we had a particularly special nurse come in to tend him who really saw and understood one of his medical issues. I am so intensely grateful. When I got home, I immediately made an offering to all the Gods to which I had prayed and most especially to Asclepius in thanks (3).
The Gods hear us. They hear our prayers and those prayers matter. I wish that I could share with all of you, the sense that is so deeply ingrained in my bones and heart and mind and spirit, born of experiences like this, born of the gift of theophany given unexpectedly and certainly without any merit of my own. I wish I could ingrain in all of you how deeply, deeply loved we are by our Gods, how They listen and hold our pain as Their own. They hear us and we matter so deeply to Them and it is good. If nothing else, I wish that I could share that heart to heart, mind to mind, soul to soul with each of you, my readers.
I met a God today and other Gods protected me on my journey to and from the center. I was reminded again how very important our prayers are and I was reminded again that our Gods always walk with us because we are Theirs, carefully crafted by Their will and hands and our prayers matter more than I can express. So, pray for those you love. Pray in thanks to your Gods. Pray that those who work in healing remember that they are healers and that they be sustained in that knowledge. Pray for our health care workers, for those sick and injured in their care. Pray and say thank you and know that our capacity to reach out for our Gods is one of the greatest privileges and joys in our lives.
I said to my husband when we spoke of this on the phone later (texted really, I not being much of a phone person). We are so very lucky. We are so blessed. We are living in a terrible time, and we have to sometimes face terrible things, but nonetheless we are so incredibly blessed. I pray myself, that I never forget to give thanks.
- I wonder if being trapped in the body of someone already suffering isn’t a type of punishment for the evil spirit too. I heard one howl and cry out in utter anguish and what must it be like for a creature of spirit to be trapped in wounded flesh? I understand after this experience, so much better Origen’s idea of apokatastasis and wonder at the free will of such beings.
- I am not saying every sick person or person with dementia is tormented by evil spirits. That is not the case at all. I am saying instead that there are bottom feeding spirits that take advantage sometimes, in some cases. I wonder if this old woman and a second one who was also tormented, had particularly rich and creative lives that attracted the attention of something hungry to augment pain, or if it was just being sick and fragile and having no one to protect them, and being vulnerable. What does it do to the staff to be in that environment all the time – because some of them sense it too? As we treat body and mind, I think there is a need to address the spiritual too and that starts with blessing and purification so that we may serve our Gods in peace and liberty, without interference, so that healing may occur without this other, unseen fight.
- I don’t generally see this God as a man of color, but I think Gods can show Themselves however They wish and I am so grateful to Asclepius for today. I pray to all of our Healing Gods, especially Asclepius, Eir, and Apollo regularly yet I feel as though my heart has been turned open and inside out with a gratitude toward them so enormous it is painful.
I received a really good question about devotion and the Gods a few days ago but this is the first opportunity that I’ve had to respond. This is a really good, basic theological question about why and how we view our Gods and I thought it deserved its own post so here y’all go.
P. asks: I’m wondering how, as a devotional Heathen, you envision/understand the gods especially because all we have of the Northern deities is the myths and like the Greek and Roman myths, they’re not very flattering sometimes. I was listening to a podcast you did like 3 years ago and you mention this as well, that the Greeks for example, have other material like the Neo-Platonists, or the Romans the Stoics, where the gods are discussed philosophically. Of course deities are not bound by human confines and I know what is meant by, say, siblings mating/marrying (that They are equals, etc) and a nature goddess being promiscuous but, perhaps I never had a new-age, free love mindset EVER, the lack of morality sometimes gets to me whilst reading the material. This is true for most myths of course, not just the Northern tradition. But AFAIK, those are the only material we have. And, on a similar note, the gods are usually so…mean, it’s difficult to like them (not all, obviously!) I’m not being frivolous, and I hope you don’t get this the wrong way, gods are gods and not besties obviously but to have a devotional relationship I feel like there needs to be some sort of affection?”
There are actually several good questions here so let me try to take them one by one and I’ll do my best.
I don’t believe the myths were ever meant to be taken either literally or as exempla of how to behave as human beings. I also detest the new age, free love crap fwiw. I find it morally and spiritually repugnant on every possible level, and there were Deities that I really struggled to honor for precisely that reason. Either the devotees that I had met were gross or Their stories presented a morality with which I simply could not accord. It took me many, many years of devotion and study to realize that the Deity is not confined nor even particularly well represented necessarily in His or Her stories (or by Their devotees!). The myths are not revealed scripture and they do not function as the unerring Word of God ™.
How we approach the myths and center them in our minds matters. It matters because it sets the framework for engagement both devotionally and liturgically. These stories contain windows to the sacred but they aren’t sacred in and of themselves in the same way that a Christian might hold the New Testament sacred or a Muslim the Qu’ran (and we are primed in our culture to not only give precedence to the written word over other forms of tradition transmission but also to expect all sacred stories to function like such “scripture.”). The myths that we have are more pliable and I think they may point to different facets of our Gods’ personalities, or certain immutable lessons (like the danger of putting oneself above the Gods) but often storytellers wanted to tell a good story about human events that were shaped in part by their understanding of the power of the Gods to impact our lives (I’m thinking of the Iliad here). The same story can serve many different purposes. That doesn’t mean they aren’t doorways to the sacred, but they aren’t holy in and of themselves. Many story tellers including the poet or poets otherwise known as Homer, were soundly criticized by later philosophers for the way in which they presented the Gods in their writing. It was considered impious. I tend to think that in such cases it was more a nod to the ways in which the Gods are able to inspire us and act in the world. Also, Norse culture particularly was an oral culture. What we have written down, what we consider “lore,” i.e. the Eddas, Sagas, etc. is but a bare fraction of what actually existed. There are some serious lacunae. One can get glimpses in art and material culture of stories that we simply no longer have. In oral cultures like these, sacred things were not the types of things that would’ve been transmitted via the written word because to write it down traps and closes the circle of the narrative. It removes the possibility for future revelation.
When I read a myth about one of my Gods that rubs me the wrong way, I sit with it and look for the greater cosmological lesson (1). What does this say about the nature of my God? What does it say about how that God is able to act in the world, but most importantly, how does it reflect creation and the impetus and actions of our Gods therein. Quite often, there is something in these stories and their presentation of the Gods that hearkens back to the creation narrative. I’ve written about that here.
Are there any patterns that recur in the story? Where do things start to go awry? All of these are important textual markers for places that may serve as windows for something holy or for a mystery belonging to the Deity in question. Stories are never just stories if we’re reading theologically (2).
I think the highest form of interpretation is through the lens of devotion (not philosophy and certainly not recitation of lore) but one text that might be helpful is Sallustius’s “On the Gods and the World.” Sallustius was a friend of Emperor Julian, and this was written, if I’m not mistaken as sort of a primer of how to read poly-theologically. It’s not a bad place to begin. As he notes, the myths never happened and are always happening. That is the essence of Mystery.
I love the Gods. I believe that They are eternal creators of all the worlds, that They are good, essentially, ontologically *good*. I was thinking of this when my assistant Tove played this song for me and we had a long discussion about how *no one* is unloved by the Gods. That is the profundity of Their nature. They imagined us, willed us, crafted us into being. We are Theirs in ways we can barely imagine.
Tove, when I asked her, because we are sitting here discussing this, added, “Our Gods are ineffable and limitless, and the scariest thing is that They see the fullness of our potentiality and the closer we come to Them, the more we see that potentiality juxtaposed against the reality of who we are now. They love us in our whole form, including who we CAN Be and there’s a challenge there: how far can we stretch, how far can we grow. I believe They want, like all good parents, want us very much to grow. This is probably why people say it is a scary thing to be loved by a God. It forces one to be bigger, to be more.”
I have rarely if ever experienced a Deity being “mean.” At least, I’ve never experienced it as being mean just to be mean. Sometimes I have had a God or Goddess push me in some way beyond my limits, push me to the point of challenge and then one step farther. That is a good thing. It is only by pushing against our limits that we grow stronger. I have seen very wounded human souls incapable of experiencing the power of the Holy Ones save through the lens of their own terrible abuse. That is not something that the Gods did. That was a damaged soul unable to see divine love as anything other than terrible…and still something to be longed for jealously. Of course, I belong to Odin, the personification of ecstatic frenzy. His love is the tip of a spear penetrating the heart and it is glorious.
In devotion, the relationships we develop with our Holy Ones may start out in fumbling awkwardness but they grow. Like any relationship they grow in intimacy, in trust. That’s what is really key: trust. We learn to trust our Gods, to let Them in a little more, to go a few more faltering steps forward in devotion. “Affection” is too small, too weak a word for what the Gods are capable of evoking in our hearts. Their love is like the blood beating in our veins. It is like breath forcing itself into and out of our lungs again and again. It is all that sustains us, and all that challenges us to be more.
- While one may argue that some myths like Homer were ancient fanfiction, I think the difference between then and now lies in the fact that the culture of Homeric Greece (to give one example of “mythology”) was infused with veneration of the Gods at every level. The tradition was deep and intergenerationally embedded. That is not the case now, quite the opposite. So much in our world is hostile to devotion of any sort, esp. media which often makes a mockery of it or puts humans above the Gods.
- For pre-Christian polytheists, religion was about devotion and engaging in some way with the Gods. Soteriological concerns were handled via mystery cultus, and building character, virtue, learning how to be a decent human being both by community nomoi but also in some cases philosophy. The myths aren’t examples of virtuous living for mortals because that’s not the correct place upon which to put that weight. That’s not the purpose of religion. Religion is about engaging properly with the Gods. Now, they can teach virtue by dint of teaching what is proper behavior, but it’s through custom, upbringing, and philosophy that one really developed those things…otherwise, the purpose of religion is subtly shifted in unhelpful ways. It goes from being about the Gods to being about us, humanity. It becomes vanity.
To Apollo, in Thanks for Your Care and Healing In 433 B.C.E., the Romans raised their first shrine to You. They hailed You as God of the sun and of light, but they called that temple, first of many, the temple of Apollo Medicus, and above all else, they honored You as the best of physicians. That is how I honor You too. You drive out pollution. You drive our miasma. The brightness of Your presence purifies. You restore the body to harmony and health. You restore the mind. I hail You, now and always, as Iatros, Apollo, the doctor.
I have to admit, I never thought I’d be writing a paean to the Roman God Sterculinus. He’s the God, no joke, of doing useful things with poop. Lol. Initially, He was largely venerated by farmers, because manure was used to fertilize the fields. We do the same thing today, but our fertilizer has been prepared for us by this company or that.
Prayer to Sterculinus Hail to You, Friend of Pomona. Hail to You, Friend of Flora. Hail to You, Friend of Ceres. Hail to You, Friend of farmers always and everywhere. Your gifts and teaching are beyond price. You taught our ancestors how to make their fields fertile. You taught them how to use refuse, recycling it through the alchemy of the earth, enriching the soil, and in so doing, filling their larders and pantries with abundance. You, Great God – for all Gods are great—teach us to respect even the lowliest part of creation, because creation too is filled with wonder. You are a healing God also, though little do we think on it, until we need Your blessings. You keep us healthy, helping the ecology of our bodies to remain in harmony. You bring surcease of pain. You even rid the body of pollution. For this and so many other reasons, for myself and for every one of my farmer ancestors who once praised You by name, or recognized Your gifts and glory, I hail You, now and forever. Hail Sterculinus, called Stercutus, called Sterculius, May Your praises ever be sung.
My husband introduced me to this piece of music today. I have it currently on my Dionysos play list because, for whatever reason, it puts me in headspace to honor Him. Today I think I played the Nirvana version something like fifty times as I painted, and it was like riding wod. A friend said to me today that she was always afraid that if she became an artist (and she is, oh her work is beautiful), she would not be able to call the talent forth at will, and one day inspiration might leave leaving her a “one hit wonder.” I assured her that there were so many ways, so many techniques, for opening oneself up to that inspiration, that creative frenzy, to wod. It was just a matter of learning them. One of the ways that I often use is music.
When I played this today, a day where I could barely walk — literally I had to be lifted out of a chair I was in so much agony because of my back and hips–the pain no longer mattered and there was only frenzy and color and the sound of spirits calling. I painted two things, powerful things all because I rode the music into the place from which wod flows and that music opened me up (1)
I can ride the wod when I’m doing spirit work for hours. My husband once cut me off after about seven hours of engaging the spirits (he did right — I hadn’t realized I’d gone into a deeply altered state. He helped me come back and get grounded again with minimal after effects). I can only ride it for an hour or two when it’s painting though. It’s a slightly different hue, a different taste, a different variety and I don’t yet have the stamina. Plus, paint has to dry and practically, it’s like having a tattoo. There’s that moment that one has to pee, or the tattoo artist goes out to smoke, and there’s a break. and the adrenaline and endorphins go away. Then starting up again really sucks. So I’m more mindful now, of the flow and rhythm of things. Everything is rhythm.
Enjoy this clip of Cobain playing a song that dates back to the early 1800s.
1. And I never, EVER liked Nirvana before. It was 99.999999% because one of my teachers fell apart and abandoned all responsibility to her students and working group when Cobain died. She just couldn’t handle it and I didn’t understand it then. She didn’t know him. Why was she so upset? Now I realize she was a guitarist, a musician, and he was a guiding force in her lineage.
(Excerpted from sententiaeantiquae.com’s post here.)
When Zeus’ child, Bacchus,
That pain-reliever Luaios,
That giver of wine, joins my thoughts
He teaches me how to dance.
τοῦ Διὸς ὁ παῖς ὁ Βάκχος,
ὁ λυσίφρων ὁ Λυαῖος,
ὅταν εἰς φρένας τὰς ἐμὰς
διδάσκει με χορεύειν.
This is one of the paintings that I have in Riverwind’s Art4Life Gallery show in Pawling, NY. It’s an image wherein I blur the line between a young, wild, beautiful/terrifying Dionysos and a rather androgynous maenad. I was reading the Bacchae (again) when I painted it and wanted the intensity of the connection between Dionysos and those who love Him to come out in the painting. The image represents the interstice between devotee and divinity and where that space between them blurs…or sharpens to a dangerous degree, because the ecstasy of a God is always dangerous – delicious, revealing, restorative, but also a glorious madness.
My preference would be for this particular piece to go to someone who venerates this God. It was made to be a devotional piece. If anyone is interested in purchasing this, please contact me at Krasskova at gmail.com. Here are the specs:
Acrylic on board
It is currently framed in a black wooden frame.
Framed it is 17×21
Price: $100 plus $20 shipping and handling (if you’re overseas, then shipping will be more – we can discuss). I also have to charge state tax: so total would be $128.13.
I give thanks to Dionysos for the inspiration for this piece and the means to bring it into being and life.
For those curious about what I’m working on at the moment (as this painting was done about a year before covid, so it is not new), I just finished this 12×16 acrylic on linen canvas, so far titled “Still life with Apples.” It still needs a couple coats of varnish but the first one went on this morning, and I’ll finish the others before bed tonight, hopefully. This is intended for a show in October where I’ll have three still life (is it still life as a plural or still lives when we’re talking paintings? @_@) paintings.
Hope everyone is having a fruitful Saturday. I’m gallery sitting, drinking chai, and listening to vengeance country. It’s a good day.
I saw this on twitter (courtesy of Astro Museum). It’s a medallion with Hermes (Mercury) holding the infant Bacchus. It’s electrotype by E. Hannaux, French. c. 1895-1905. I just love this image so much, the strength and tenderness in Hermes comes through so palpably.
What a beautiful thing! Someone did a bit of guerilla art: this person put up a shrine to Hermes in the Brooklyn subway. My friend M. sent me the link yesterday and you can check it out here. I think this is just wonderful (and I particularly like that it looks like some offerings have been made). We need more of this! May Hermes and all our Gods ever and always be loved.
Here are some pictures from the link above of the shrine. May Hermes smile upon whoever did this. Bravo/a.