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Apostasy in our Communities

I hate having to make this post. The subject is one, however, that needs to be addressed by those of us who have been in the community long enough to know the history of the person in question. I really hate having to write this. 


Apparently Swain Wodening is back, after having apostatized, broken faith with our Gods, after he returned to Christianity, and after he’s written at least one book “Letting Go to Live with Christ” (and this is not going into detail about what an execrable human being he is on a personal level). He’s lurking in multiple Facebook Heathen groups under his legal name Berry Canote. 


So far, there has been no explanation of his apostasy, no contrition, no humility. Is he coming back in troth or coming back to proselytize? Or is he coming back because he didn’t get enough attention after his apostasy (after all, Christian groups might pet and fawn over the converted Pagan for a year or two but eventually that fame fades). Why should we ever trust the word of a man with so little honor?


Swain was not just  regular laity. He was in positions of authority and leadership within Heathenry. He broke his word and turned his back on the Gods. We need to hold our leaders and elders to a higher standard or what’s the point? If someone is going to constantly swing back and forth between Heathenry, Christianity, Heathenry, Christianity, etc. they are unreliable and having broken their word, having broken troth to the degree that he did, we should not easily allow such a person to return to our communities without censure. Nor should he ever be given any position of leadership again ever. 


It’s not even that he went Christian…a polytheist can honor the Christian Gods if he or she wants. No, Swain fully turned his back on the Gods and became a monotheist. This isn’t the same as syncretic practice, adding more Deities to your family shrine; this is a renunciation of our Holy Powers and once you do that, there should not be an easy way back. Personally, I don’t think there should be a way back at all, but if we’re being generous, the fucker should have to prove himself for a very long time. 


At some point, we need to establish strict standards in dealing with garbage like this. There is no place in our community for atheists and there’s certainly no place for those who abandon the Gods in the way that he did to traipse back in expecting to be welcomed with open arms. This is a religion not a fucking social club. 

EDIT: I would add if it were a lay person struggling with his or her faith, we could work with that and probably should work with that, but this was someone who was a leader in the heathen community for years, who influenced many people, and who behaved abominably. and, moreover, who has evinced no contrition or explanation upon his return and who is sneaking back in under his legal name, not the one he used before as if to hide. no. no. and no

Miscellaneous Roundup of Questions and a Couple of Interesting Links

I’ve had a few questions coming in the last four days, so I figured I’d handle them here all at once. I have also been reading a couple of interesting articles so I’m sharing those too. Questions two and three were from the same person. 

  1. What is your favorite of Odin’s heiti? – J. 

J, that is a hard question. I probably resonate the most devotionally with Odin as Gangleri or Runatyr but it really varies depending on where I’m at devotionally at any given time. Eventually, I want to explore Him through the lens of as many of His by-names as possible devotionally. Each one is a mystery and each heiti an opportunity to get to know Him better, to go deeper into devotion, and more importantly to push oneself outside of one’s comfort zone in devotion. Right now, with Oski’s day just past, I realized that while I’ve honored Him as Oski before, I don’t think I’ve written any prayers to Him in that capacity. I was shocked! Lol. So, that’s the heiti I’m most focused on but is it a “favorite?” I would say no, which is not to say that I have any personal issues honoring Him that way, it’s just not the primary way that I’ve encountered Him in my devotions and I tend to only address Him in this way in December. Mostly, there are so many heiti from which to choose that I find it really hard to say, “this one is a favorite.” There’s also liking a by-name and connecting most strongly with Him through that by-name. Those two aren’t always the same thing. So, it’s complicated. 

In the New Year, I plan to start my series here discussing Odin’s various heiti. Many of you had great suggestions for which heiti to examine first when I first mentioned this a month or so ago, and I’m looking forward to delving in. I didn’t want y’all to think I’d forgotten!

woodland winter Santa

2. How do you justify being folkish? Why do you support the AFA? 

(I’ll leave this and question three anonymous)

I’m not folkish and I don’t support the AFA. I’ve never been a member and I have significant problems theologically with their positions. They are however, entitled to have those positions just as I am entitled to disagree with them. That is their first amendment rights granted to them by our Constitution. I can disagree with them and they with me, but I won’t abridge their right to practice as they wish. I’ll simply not engage with them or join their organization. I will vote with my feet!

Here’s where I stand.  I believe that anyone of any race or ethnicity can practice any tradition including mine and I would not allow discrimination against anyone in any of the religious spaces that are mine to tend, whether that discrimination is based on ethnicity, language, gender, sexuality, or any other personal characteristic. My job as a priest is to nurture devotion and faith, to teach the tradition, the right relationships between people and their Gods, ancestors, and other Holy Powers, and to work to the best of my ability to serve my Gods well.   

Now ancestor veneration is an important part of my practice, of Heathenry, and of most polytheisms in general. We know that all those alive in the world today are here today because there is a line of ancestors who fought and struggled through hardships to keep living. We respect and love and venerate them for this and the sacrifices they have made. That doesn’t mean we don’t venerate or respect other dead, or that we think only ours should be venerated – everyone has ancestors. Honor them. It’s a simple equation. People call me folkish because I tell them not to forget those sacrifices and to respect their ancestors, remember them, learn from them. We all stand on the shoulders of our dead. Every last one of us.   

3. What do you think about Hindutva? 

(Several links that I won’t share here were included in this email, many of them accusing former acquaintances of mine of being fascists because they have in some way worked for organizations that have ties to Hindutva). 

What I really think you’re asking, is what I think of Western polytheistic attempts to make alliances with Hinduism, and also, Western polytheistic attempts to visibly support larger, extant indigenous polytheisms. 

I think for the most part, those attempts are foolish—until we build up our own communities how can we be a credible help to any other polytheistic tradition that is under attack or in danger? Yes, we should absolutely stay informed and speak out when we see other polytheistic and indigenous traditions under attack – especially when those traditions are under attack by monotheistic attempts at proselytizing and erasure. However, until we get our own house in order, we’re not useful to ourselves or anyone else. 

I think right now, we are better served spending the bulk of our energy building up our own traditions. With all due respect to my Hindu colleagues, and my colleagues in any other indigenous tradition, these traditions have nothing to gain by any alliance with any Western polytheistic group. While I do think that it is good when polytheists can stand together as a block, and it may be emotionally satisfying to sidestep the difficult work of building our own traditions by friendly alliances with Hinduism, or Ifa, for example – lineages that haven’t been sundered, in the end, I don’t think it’s beneficial to either side right now. Maybe on paper. Maybe as a public relations stunt, but what is really accomplished in actual, concrete actuality? Not a damned thing. Our energy would be better spent focusing on our communities. 

When we can enter into these alliances as equal partners then I would be all for it. Right now, at very best, we are the ones likely to be changed or absorbed by any such work because we have not taken the time to develop a backbone, a cohesive sense of identity as religious communities, or any clear sense of piety. We have no ethics because too many of our people mistake politics (usually progressive but not always) for religion. We need to start and really commit to the process of building solid, in person communities, religious houses, temples with the attendant infrastructure to think and act like the communities we can be. We need to be raising children in the faith and looking to restore the framework for intergenerational transmission of our traditions. Then, maybe we can step up and enter into larger alliances with something to offer other than pretty words. In other words, we actually have to HAVE communities before we can have any type of productive alliance. 

free standing Pagan temple

Now onto some interesting links that I read this week and think some of you may find interesting:

An article about how birds perceive time. Read here.

Vikings got here before the eleventh century. Read that here.

Finally, I just saw a new book came not too long ago on Heathen concepts of the Soul. I have not read it yet, but it looks promising. The book is called ‘Heathen Soul Lore Foundations: Ancient and Modern Germanic Pagan Concepts of the Souls” by Winifred Rose. You can find it here. (and … half way through the first chapter I disagree with the definition of “soul” offered so strongly I may have to write a review. This is theological work but it’s not approached theologically and I find this frustrating. That being said, I am looking forward to seeing how Rose develops her ideas historically and philologically).

Finally, over at House of Vines, a commenter (Xenophon) gave the perfect response to those that are constantly nattering on about how everyone who practices actual religion instead of politics or who disagrees with the political position du jour is a fascist: “I’m sorry, I can’t hear you over the sound of my prayers to the Gods.” That’s it, folks, the best advice of the week: ignore the haters and get on with devotion. 

Here is an apotropaic phallus. 

Roman carving of a winged phallus with wings, tail, and little legs

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Reader Question: Do You Say Grace Before Meals?

Yes, I do. I think it’s important on a number of levels to bless our food and to give thanks. In my home, there are a few preparatory blessings of cooking ingredients that I do: all salt is immediately poured into a large salt jar and blessed and that is the only salt we use in the home. So, anything made from scratch, uses blessed salt. Then, as I cook, I’m usually praying over the food. For anything we order, I bless it as I’m unpacking it and usually again when I plate it. Pretty much any meal I eat, I first say grace over it, and I do this for two primary reasons. 

Firstly, I think it’s important to give thanks to the Gods and spirits that nourish us, and building that habit with respect to the food we take into our bodies is a good place to start. It keeps us mindful. It connects food and nourishment with the Gods and puts us in a receptive headspace of gratitude and respect. Those are good things. This also connects the mundane task of nourishing our bodies with something holy and properly elevates it. Food is sacred after all. It is key to the connection between Midgard, Vanaheim, and Helheim. Our physical bodies too are part of our soul matrix and giving them proper nourishment then becomes a sacred task. Cooking is also a powerful connection to our ancestors. So, there’s a lot bound up in food. Plus, we are blessed to be able to nourish ourselves and our families and the Gods pour Their grace into the very food we eat always. 

Secondly, as a culture we pollute our food: GMOs, pesticides, and all sorts of unnatural things. Sometimes these things damage the spirit of the food itself, and I think praying over our food restores a natural balance, inasmuch as it can be restored. 

Whenever and whatever I eat, I will put my hands over and it ask for blessings. I’ll say something like, “I thank you Frey, Freya, and all Good and Gracious Gods for the food I’m about to eat. Please bless it and fill it with Your odhr that it may restore and nourish both my body and soul. Blessings on this food and the hands that prepared it.” If I’m feeling the Roman Gods more strongly, I might include Pomona and Ceres in the prayer as well. Then I’ll make the hammer sign over my food and eat up. It’s that simple and I do it whether I’m alone or eating out. 

If anyone else here says grace, do you have particular prayers that you like to use? Please feel free to share in the comments.

country kitchen – I adore the sink!

Keep On Keeping On

On another forum I’ve been writing about spiritual warfare – no, I wasn’t raised evangelical and I know this is a term that one usually hears in that context. It’s an uncomfortable term, a term that challenges our ideas of how the world works, of how our traditions work. I know that and unfortunately, I have no words and no way of making this any more palatable. I have no better term for what is happening now on every front. I can only write about what my own experience has been and what I see and deal with daily. 

To be blunt, probably blunter than I ought to be, we are beset on every side by evil, apathy, entropy, degeneracy, and moral and spiritual decay. It’s not just happening to us, but is seeping in, breaking in, crashing in through the doorway of other religions too, and through the doorway of political events (on every side). Everything we are seeing I very strongly believe is a reflection of a greater, deeper, spiritual war that is going on behind the scenes. Evil exists and it can influence people, corrupt them, and it aligns itself against all that the Gods, the good and great Holy Powers have wrought. Looking at it now seems so overwhelming. It fosters a despair that can corrode and damage the soul. Our traditions so often ignore or downplay, or sometimes outright deny the existence of Evil that I think we hobble our ability to respond to it and to ward ourselves from the hostility and despair is its greatest tool. 

As I told someone yesterday: don’t give into despair. There is no need. That only allows that which is evil a victory. Instead turn to your prayers and redouble them. Prayers open doorways for our Gods, doorways into our hearts and minds and souls, doorways into our world. Double down on your devotion. Do that which is given to you to do. It doesn’t matter how big or how small it is: when we honor our Gods, our ancestors, our land, we align ourselves with the Powers and create in microcosm a world in which the good and holy has triumphed. This is where transformation starts: on our knees before our shrines, with offerings filling our hands, with prayers filling our mouths, with love filling our heart. Don’t be afraid. Don’t despair. Maintain cultus to the Holy Powers. Throw yourself into whatever creative work you can do. Pray and celebrate your Gods and your love for Them. That will transform you and sustain you. It is enough. It drives back the foulness. 

Each one of your voices matters. Your prayers matter. Your devotion matters. Each one of us fights this battle one on one in the hidden passage ways of our souls but we don’t fight alone. We have our Gods, our ancestors, our fellow devotees right by our side. Our voices are joined by the voices of all those who honor and who have in their lifetimes honored the Powers, hoping and  praying and working together. That conquers evil. When we lift our voices together in piety and praise for all that is Holy: then we are mighty indeed. What is evil before that? We conquer it again and again within ourselves, uniting ourselves in devotion to our Holy Powers and from there it spreads out like a tidal wave. 

General PSA on Teaching within our Communities and Taking Apprentices

If I were a kinder person, a better theologian, a more patient priest I would probably approach this less bluntly, but today is not that day. I have a wonderful apprentice now of sterling character and deep piety and she asked me recently (now that she herself is getting close to the point where she will likely take a student or two under supervision) what to look for when deciding to take on this responsibility. While the sarcastic bitch in me wanted to respond, “Xanax,” her question is a necessary one and not a conversation that my own teachers ever had with me. This is not to their discredit.  It simply wasn’t the way things were done then. We were all young and some lessons are hard, very hard learned. So, speaking to the question of apprentices and students within one’s religious community (1), here we go. 

Cowardice is pandemic in our communities. When someone asks me what to look for in a group, a teacher, or when a teacher/priest asks me how to vet potential apprentices and students, this is the first thing I tell them: look first for virtue and character. Over and above anything else, that has to be there. If it’s not, do your best Usain Bolt imitation and run as fast as you can the other way. Also, if there’s not a willingness to prioritize devotion and the Gods, even when it’s uncomfortable, or arouses hostility in the community, or causes inconvenience: run. You cannot fix this in a person. It doesn’t matter how much you may personally like that person or how otherwise gifted he or she is: run. 

One thing that I have learned in over thirty years of teaching, writing, leading rituals, etc. is that when taking an apprentice one must look first and foremost at innate character. If character is lacking, that is terminal spiritual damage. It cannot be fixed.  I’ll give you an example. Many years ago, a young man became my apprentice. I did not particularly want to take him on. He had, with almost no training, been engaging in deity possession and using that to engage in sexual improprieties bordering on coercion with at least one woman to whom he was attracted. In conversation with my own elders we took his word that he hadn’t realized what he was doing, or how great a blasphemy it was. We assumed on good faith that he was redeemable with a little teaching, with strict mentorship, with a chance to learn and cultivate virtue and values, to build character, to devote himself to the Gods without having to worry about being called upon, far before he was ready, to step into a leadership role in his community (which had been part of the pressure and problem, or so we figured). We were all wrong and bad character remained bad character, egotism and vainglory (the need to be liked and to receive accolades, to be held up as top of the class, so to speak) only now hidden behind a façade of piety. This was compounded by the fact that the work of necessity was done long distance where it was difficult to accurately gauge progress. Just don’t. If even once this type of behavior is noted, shun that person one thousand percent (2). Also, with very rare exceptions, I do not think I would ever take a long distance apprentice again. The work is intense, demands such deep, often painful and challenging internal processing, that I just don’t think it can be effectively done (or monitored for problems) at a distance. 

Here’s a second example. Many years ago, farther back than the case of the man I mentioned above, I took as a student an incredibly gifted young woman (one of the most gifted students I have ever had). She was also utterly without character, which I didn’t realize until much later. She was actually my first serious student and thanks to her, I know some of the things to look for in gauging potential students from here on out. What we took as vivid exaggeration and a gift for story telling was really an addiction to chronic lying. What we took as struggling piety, was really a desire to garner all the attention in the room by pretense of ecstatic revelation. Had we looked harder (I and the fellow priest who helped train her), we would have seen lack of responsibility in her life, constant disorder in every area, endless making of excuses, dangerous promiscuity, poor decision after poor decision, and vanity. There was extraordinary giftedness but a character dependent on those around her. When she was with us, she was fine. She mirrored what was dominant in those around her. When she was not with us, her character did not hold. Instability on every level surrounded her life. Eventually it led to a psychotic break and a descent into trouble. We mandated psychotherapy. She agreed and then lied about going. She was a parasite. So, for those of you intending to start a spiritual house, a kindred, a coven, an Iseum, a Thiasos, or other group, look deeply into those you allow into your spiritual world. If there isn’t base line character, you will fail in aiding in their spiritual formation. That’s what the work of a spiritual teacher and priest is: spiritual formation and that takes cooperation and hard work on both sides. 

Also, you’re a priest or teacher, not a psychologist. We can do so much with those who come to us, but we’re not psychotherapists. Learn where that boundary is and don’t allow a disordered student to push you past it. Also, the teacher-student/teacher-apprentice relationship should be one of loyalty and respect, commitment and support mutually for life. I would go to the wall for many of my students and my current apprentice. When that relationship is violated it affects the luck and wyrd of each party on a grossly violent level. It is polluting in a way that is very difficult to cleanse. The obligations on both sides are enormous. Likewise the curse on those that take what they have learned, half-assedly usually, and set themselves up as competent spirit-workers is a stain on the soul that will taint and corrupt every bit of the work such nithlings do. 

I hear a lot of complaints in the community about lack of elders and teachers. Well, folks, they’re there. They just get sick and tired of being shat on by students, neophytes, and apprentices who don’t want to step up and prioritize devotion and do the work. We are not great cosmic tits that you can drain dry with your mommy and daddy issues, your authority issues, your unwillingness to address character flaws or develop virtue. We’re not there to hand over the mysteries of our tradition to the untested and untried. You want an elder or a teacher to guide you, show some fucking respect. 

Then there’s the cowardice. It is, as I have said, pandemic in our communities. I have a number of readers and twitter followers and those on facebook who smile to my face and then turn around and support those who slander me and (more importantly) my work. You’re cowards. Pick a fucking side.  

I’ll also add, that when you meet someone who wants to drag the Gods down into morass and pollution of human politics, in an effort usually to garner praise, and in ways that exclude devout men and women from worship, step back and take a hard look at why.  What pat on the head is that person getting? Whom do they serve? What do they actually value and where do the Gods and devotion and piety figure in that value system?

Veneration to the Holy Power is the thing that should be lifting us up beyond all our human shit. It should be the thing that encourages and incites us to elevate our souls, to throw ourselves into devotion, to transform our internal world and sometimes our external world to through the power of that adoration. When that is twisted out of true by ungrateful apprentices who lacked the spiritual fortitude, commitment, and virtue to stay the course, it’s an ugly, ugly thing. So beware.  

Notes: 

  1. This does not apply to academic teaching at all. This is a totally different animal. The work we do in training apprentices and students within our religious communities is emotionally and spiritually intimate and steeped in a shared cosmology and hierarchy that would not in any way be appropriate to transfer over to secular teaching. 
  2. Now don’t accept gossip. Of all the evil spirits, that of gossip is THE most dangerous and destructive (see the book “Osogbo” by Ochani Lele). There should be clear proof and/or witnessed offense. Spectral evidence my friends, ain’t evidence at all. 

A Message to New Readers

In a different time and place, I’d make a subtle, carefully reasoned argument about why it was important to pray or make offerings. I’d go into the ins and outs of piety and help newcomers to my blog see why it was so important. I would do, what I have done, for thirty years laying out the theology of devotion, of human anthropology, and opening up our cosmology in ways that lead one more easily down the paths of piety. Yeah. Today is not that day. These things have been covered by me numerous times before and by those across a broad spectrum of traditions who are wiser than I in these things. I’m tired of repeating myself. Besides, trying to speak common sense to someone lacking character, virtue, or identity (you know, outside of their genitals or whom they choose to rub those genitals against) is like pissing in the wind these days. So let me be clear and y’all can stay or go as you wish. 

I have zero interest in discussing theology with people who lack the most basic respect for the Holy, people who have no concept of devotion. We literally do not speak the same language. Do not step to me with your muddled thinking, your entitlement before the Gods, your foolishness, lack of piety, pollution, refusal to show the most basic elements of devotion, refusal to pray – to do that one very simple thing that aids in our discernment, draws us closer in devotion to our Gods, and protects us from evil. You fucking people have destroyed, polluted, and shat on your own “traditions” and now you’re coming into very polytheistic spaces to do the same to us. NO. 

If you find it too damned much trouble to pray. GTFO. 

If making a simple offering seems ‘wasteful,’ likewise GTFO.

If serving the Gods as a faithful and pious retainer isn’t the center of your being: GTFO. 

You sensing the theme? Take it to heart. 

Polytheism is about venerating the Gods, Who exist as independent Beings outside of us. WE are not the center of the universe. We were put here to serve the Gods, to live lives of mindful devotion creating in our world doorways to that which is Holy, to that which created us all.  

It is not enough to just exist and pretend to practice a religion. One actually has to DO something. People who come on blogs and other social media sites and tell you that any contact with the Gods is mental illness, that sacrifice is wrong, that devotion isn’t necessary, that prayer isn’t necessary, that cleansing isn’t needed, or who project their every identity dysfunction onto the Gods, are like fire hoses full of shit. They are purposely spreading pollution. This is evil. I’m done pretending otherwise and I’m done being anything approximating hospitable or nice. 

I encourage my readers to comment on my posts here but read the fucking room first. There are plenty of places where people can go to defile themselves. No one needs to do that here. There’s a whole internet at one’s disposal. GTFO.

Every Elder is a World

Our elders are the backbone of our traditions. Without elders, there is no tradition and certainly no clean, sustainable transmission of our traditions. There’s a trend now, largely from the Pagan left (no surprise there) to dismiss, erase, eradicate the contributions of our traditions’ elders, all the while reaping the benefits of the learning, traditions, and Mysteries those elders carry. People who spent and spend their lives pouring themselves out for their Gods are being excoriated and slowly pushed out of their traditions by those with little learning, less sense, and no humility at all. It’s really rather disgusting. It’s not surprising – I’ve seen the attitude before—but it is disgusting. 

It also betrays a deeply flawed understanding of what tradition and lineage are and why they’re important. It speaks to modern discomfort with hierarchy and authority. It speaks to the quality of person modern Paganisms way too often draw, but it also speaks to a dearth of competent elders in some cases. An elder, however, can be “troublesome” without being wrong. A good elder knows better than to allow him or herself to move with the wind. Rather an elder stands strong and committed to service to the Holy Powers and Their traditions. 

Should we have elders, prophets, diviners, etc.? Well that’s really up to the Gods isn’t it? And the Gods have, from time immemorial resounded with a clear and present YES. (This is particularly true in the case of prophets – the community has zero part to play in making a prophet. That is something the Gods alone do). 

I am grateful to the elders in my world, living and dead. I am grateful for the doors they’ve opened, for their struggles, their hard work, their sacrifices. 

A Neat Yule Tradition

One of my readers, K., sent me this interesting Yule suggestion that I want to share with y’all now. We’re not doing a Yule tree this year (makes me sad, but it’s a bit too much to juggle right now, though maybe we’ll do a small table top one), but I really, really like this idea: 

"I just wanted to share an old idea for DIY (or little magic working) - it is a surviving pre-Christian custom of the Russian North.  

My great grandmother told my mom (a little girl at that time) to write her wish on little pieces of paper, scroll them, tie each scroll with red thread, and put those wishes on the Yuletree to be granted… and those scrolls supposed to be burned after Yule. These little magic scrolls with red bows looklovely, like ornaments. Nobody knows what's inside, and they surely are DIY projects and not for kids only :) 

BTW, in the Russian language, the name for a Pine tree is still Yule-tree."


So there you go, a charming idea for the Yule Tree. Thank you, K. for sharing this!

Stop This Ride, I Want to Get Off!!!

One of the many things that tridentantifa – btw, thanks, guys, for all the traffic to my site. It really helps get my work out there — complains about in my work is my support of dowries and marriage contracts. Since I’ve already written about the importance of a dowry and/or a trousseau elsewhere (1), this article is going to tackle, very much in brief, marriage contracts. It came up today in a conversation within my household after we saw an interview in which the subject of a pre-nup arose.

There is so little available beyond 101 material that discusses how to build a functioning, sustainable community (2). The key building block of a community is the household, which ideally in a traditional community begins with the married couple (3). A marriage contract is a legally binding document, signed by all parties prior to the actual marriage, that protects the interest of each party in the event of death or divorce. It goes beyond the boundaries of a pre-nup, which usually only deals with distribution of assets between spouses in the event of a break-up, and versions of the marriage contract date back at least to the early medieval (if not farther back, because really, these things varied considerably country to country, culture to culture, class to class). One thing that it emphasizes is that marriage is not just about the individuals, but is a matter of, at its best, uniting households and families. It ensures that both parties and their assets are protected, but also extends that protection to any children too. 

Now, when I got married, my husband insisted adamantly on having a pre-nup – not for his benefit, but for my own. He never wanted it to be said, as a certain nithling in the community has hinted, that he married me solely for his own material gain (4). Our marriage contract almost made his lawyer cry, because Sannion was insistent that in the event we divorce, he leave with only the goods with which he had entered our marriage and nothing more. Despite the existential pain this caused his attorney, he got his way but had we intended to have children, it would have been far more complicated. A good marriage contract carefully lays out in legally binding terms the following:

* The property, wealth, and assets with which each partner enters the marriage

* who gets what in the event of a divorce

* each partner’s will and testament (I suggest updating these every five years)

* each partner’s health care proxy and instructions in the event this is needed (do you want a DNR, do you want all life saving measures, etc.)

* who gets custody of any future children in the event of the parents’ death, and how do you want those children raised (i.e. polytheist)

* in the event of death, how are one’s assets to be divided vis-à-vis the children?

* what financial arrangements are you both making for any children’s future education, etc.?

* wergild in the event of adultery (and the right to pursue but not the obligation to do so).

Now, looking at this, you’ll see it combines a marriage contract with end of life issues, and some of the latter will be necessarily updated in an ongoing fashion. I think that the contract should partly be worked out by the couple themselves – when they are in love and want the best for each other, not later when there may be disagreements – but each family or representatives thereof should have a strong hand in working out the boundaries too (because when we are in love we are idiots and hopefully elders from one’s family will have one’s own interests at heart more than a love struck fool), and then finally it should be evaluated and witnessed by an objective party – and in the type of community we want to see, that would be a priest, elder, diviner, or some other specialist. I can’t help thinking of ancient Rome where wills and other contracts were maintained in the temple of Vesta. 

As an aside, I also think a lot can be said about a person and perhaps about the marriage’s future chance of success by the care one takes in the contract. If one partner is arguing vociferously over taking care of the other partner (or future children) in event of a break up, well, maybe think twice. Also, it can highlight potential points of fracture and discord, giving the couple a chance to discuss these things and start working them out (raising future children, for instance, or how one manages one’s finances. Priorities and values become significantly highlighted during the process of writing a contract like this). Of course, I also think clear provisions should be laid out in the event of a violation of one’s marital vows (adultery) too. Better to do it all before animosity threatens and colors one’s sense of right and wrong, then at the height of justified fury (5).

The important thing to take away here is that the purpose of a marriage contract is fair protection and care of each party, and any children. Each contract is customized to the parties involved. There is no single all-encompassing format. It’s flexible, and each household is able to choose what matters to them. In the event of adultery or other violations of one’s marriage vows, having pre-set penalties may help limit violence and unchecked vindictiveness. One could even include the option to leave in the contract in the event of XYZ. This also ensures that one places a priority on maintaining one’s tradition and clean transmission of that to one’s children. 

Please feel free to post questions or comments below. 

Notes: 

  1. Namely, having a trousseau, if not a dowry, helps prepare the young person for eventually setting up a functional household. See my article here
  2. My husband pointed out that one notable exception to this is Amber K’s book “Covencraft.” This book is really a must read for anyone who is running a religious group, even if we do disagree with her theology.
  3. Personally, I think the healthiest households are multi-generational and extended, but each healthy marriage is a further link in the chain of properly transmitted religious tradition and cultural norms. 
  4. Yes, dear, I know who you are, and I’m aware of the foul, untruthful shit that you spew. Having seen your dysfunctional relationships, and the utterly disgusting way you treat your partners, despite touting yourself as some sort of super feminist, I don’t think you have any room to talk. Kindly eat a dick. 
  5. This is, by the way, the ONLY legal document that I think should come into play with a marriage – if one has more than one spouse, work it into the contract (I don’t think polyamory is ideal, but like anything else, it can be done well or poorly, and while there is a standard norm, there are always functional exceptions to that norm). Frankly, I don’t think the government has any right at all to determine how consenting adults structure their households, so long as everyone is consenting and of legal age. Pedophiles should be burned alive. A marriage contract and later a marriage license that, in a perfect community, would be notarized at the appropriate temple are all that should be required. 

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Thoughts on Reading Ignatius

This week for one of my Patristics classes (1) we’re reading the letters of Ignatius of Antioch (2). I had only previously read his letter to the Romans, so I wasn’t prepared for the lush and sensual language of the others (3). He urges his congregation to “by symphonic in your harmony, taking up God’s pitch in unison, that you may sing in one voice…” (4) employs complex building and architectural metaphors (5), baking metaphors (6), and urges his people to take care in what they intellectually, morally, and spiritually consume (7). Finally, he talks about his service to his God using the metaphor of military service, positioning baptism as weaponry, faith as a helmet, love as a spear, and endurance in one’s faith as a full set of armor (8). 

As I’m reading this, keeping the context always in mind: these pastoral letters are being written by a man being dragged to Rome, under guard and in chains, heading to a truly horrid death, I can’t help but wonder how our communities would respond today were our religions suddenly proscribed by the Government. Would we lay down our lives for our traditions and Gods? I hope this is never put to the test because frankly, I don’t think most would, not when they can’t even stand up against name calling by an anonymous online mob. Recanting and bending the knee is so much easier after all, regardless of what one truly believes. Why be good when one can put on a passable seeming?

Yesterday, I saw someone express a yearning for new temples. I thought, will our communities be paying priests, administrative staff, cleaning staff, those tending and raising sacrificial animals, attendants, oracles, etc.? No? Well, then you can’t have a temple. They don’t run themselves. They are community and community funded endeavors and moreover fully functioning micro-economies. We don’t actually have functioning communities, so we’re already behind that curve. We have way too many people who pay lip service to faith when it doesn’t impact their day to day lives or cause them inconvenience (be that latter of thought, of public image, time, or physical wellbeing).  People who purport to love the Gods, but see no value in sacred service, are unlikely to lay down their lives in loyalty to those Gods, especially when they have zero respect for those who do serve Them. And oh, I can hear you all formulating your rebuttals about all the ways you’d keep your faith alive in secret. Why only in secret? How many of you reading this lack the courage to stand proudly as polytheists in your daily world? Yes, that comes with consequences and if those are too harsh for you to bear, what happens when you’re asked for more? 

Don’t you want to give more? Is there any limit to what you would give the Gods that have made you, formed you, Who have stepped up to claim you, Whom you venerate, the act of which is our raison d’etre as creatures made by Divine will, heat, hands, and breath? What precisely should be the limit to honoring Those that gave us everything?

To be fair, I know how scary it can be to consciously ‘other’ yourself, as publicly claiming your polytheism openly in your world might do. I get it and there can be consequences. Just this year I lost a very good friend who finally expressed the contempt for my religion that had apparently been bubbling under the surface of his little agnostic mind for Gods know how long. It’s probably going to be a significant issue in my academic field when the time comes for me to find a job. I’m fully aware that it may preclude me from that actually happening (and this doesn’t take into account denominational differences and arguments within our religions). There are cases where I think silence is perhaps golden: if custody of one’s children is at risk, if you live in a country where you can be dragged out killed. We do not. Of course, then the question arises of how do you work to change those settings, situations, and laws to make it better for those who come next (9)? There is a point though where one has to just trust the Gods and do the work, whatever that work may be.  It’s about learning to prioritize correctly, learning to value the right things, and developing good habits of living those choices day to day. Each day is a choice, an opportunity to make a new choice, a better choice. That holds true not only devotionally, but pretty much in every aspect of our lives. 

Ancient polytheists saw virtue as something that could be cultivated, and as something that should be cultivated. This was in part, the purpose of philosophy and also of one’s education and civic training. We allow ourselves none of those arenas in which to train ourselves in moral virtue today. When we come to our Gods consciously, it’s without the external scaffolding that would encourage healthy mindsets, healthy behavior, commitment, and courage and a whole host of other good moral (and spiritual!) habits. Even the idea that one can cultivate good habits of devotion (whatever those may be for a devotee within a tradition with his or her Gods) is a new and possibly revolutionary thought to many. 

So what do we cultivate in ourselves? Are we even kind and encouraging to new converts, some of whom may be going through a very natural grieving process for the religions and religious cultures they have left? Do we do anything to actually build in-person communities that will thrive in a sustainable manner after we are gone? Are we doing anything to actually repair those threads broken in the first century? 

It starts with good, solid personal devotion, with household worship, with raising children in one’s tradition, with overcoming fear, and in a thousand other ways. It means changing how we think and most importantly of all, how we live in the world. None of that is easy and each of us will make mistakes, from which we’ll hopefully learn. We should be proud of our traditions, of what we are doing and what polytheists before us did. We should be joyous in glorifying our Gods through lives well lived in Their service. Let it not be said that Christians have better, stronger, more committed faith than we do. Let it not be said that they do more for their God than we do for ours. As our world is falling apart around us, we can’t afford to be complacent. Now is precisely the time to throw ourselves fully into our traditions, into our devotions, into our practices and to ask how we can do more. What “more” means, will be different for everyone based on health, wealth, calling, Deity, etc. But there is always a “more.” Complacency is the death of a tradition and maybe that’s the biggest lesson we can take from the first century and its interlocutors Polytheist, Christian, and otherwise. When we stop caring and moreover stop striving we might as well pack up our shrines. 

Notes:

  1. Patristics is the study of the early church fathers, writers of the generation after the Apostles, so roughly second century C.E., whose writings laid the groundwork for the theologically orthodox positions that became the early Christian church. 
  2. Not much is known about Ignatius. According to what can be gleaned from his letters, he lived in the second century C.E. and was caught up in one of the sporadic persecutions against Christians. He was sentenced in his own province, but then for some reason (scholarly opinions vary) transported to Rome for the sentence (death by wild beasts) to be carried out.  On the way, he wrote pastoral letters to various churches and at least one bishop of his acquaintance. 
  3. Several of us have been known to joke that the letter to the Romans is torture porn, but having read them all as a set, I think it more a matter of a man going to a horrible death, writing pastoral letters to encourage his community but also pumping up his own courage so that he can go to his martyrdom (he’s already been sentenced at this point) in a way that does his faith proud. 
  4. Letter to Ephesians, chapter 4. 
  5. Ibid, chapter 9.
  6. He talks of good and bad yeast, and the preservative qualities of salt, and the aroma of healthy food in his Letter to the Magnesians, chapter 10. 
  7. Letter to the Philadelphians, chapter 3, wherein he uses an agricultural metaphor. 
  8. Predating the medieval ‘armor of God’ by several hundred years, this passage may be found in his Letter to Polycarp, chapter 6. I should point out that Ignatius isn’t in any respect without fault. One passage in this letter made me quite literally throw up (chapter 4). Instead of taking a stand against slavery – which in the Roman empire was a prospect anyone of any race, creed, or color might face—he uses language that goes well past accommodation. It’s sickening. I have never read a single early Christian author that challenged slavery. Many polytheistic Romans questioned the institution, philosophers positioning it as a moral stain on the slave owner. I have never – yet, there’s much I haven’t read – seen anything approximating this in Christian language. The slave owner may be told to “not be arrogant towards male and female slaves” but also is cautioned to “neither let them become haughty; rather, let them serve even more as slaves for the glory of God.” (letter to Polycarp, 4). It makes me sick. I don’t know if it was a matter of the apocalypticism that so defined early Christianity making temporal suffering seem unimportant, that Christianity spread through lower classes, especially slaves first, if they didn’t care, or if they thought suffering was bringing the people closer to Christ (This sickens me even more: If one is going to offer suffering to a God, one should have the option to fucking consent first, not have that forced upon one). None of this changed with Christianity’s ascension to imperial power in the 4thcentury, no matter what narrative you might read in Christian sources about how this improved people’s lives. Slavery wasn’t abolished in the Western Christian world until the 19thcentury. It continues today throughout much of the Islamic world. 
  9. I don’t think it’s ever correct to disavow our Gods. That matters and, I believe, marks us spiritually in a way that is very hard to erase.