I’ve been reading C.S. Lewis again and Lewis, in his novel The Screwtape Letters wrote that “Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality. ” Contextually, he was specifically discussing what we might call more specifically moral courage. I’ve always thought that courage was crucial to becoming a proper and worthy adult but over the past few years, I’ve come to agree 110% with Lewis. I think it is beyond fundamental. I would go so far as to call it the mater virtutium, the mother of all virtues. It’s in sadly short supply today. Maybe it always was.
Virtue (1) doesn’t just happen. We’re not born knowing what it is or how to live virtuously. We have to take the time to cultivate that which we wish to become. This takes work and may involve failure as we learn how to make correct choices, as we learn to do that which makes us better people, and most importantly, makes us better polytheists. Everything we do, everything we choose in our world, most especially our behavior, should make us better servants of our Gods. That is, after all, why we are here. Yet, where do we learn virtue?
Ideally, we would be learning these things from our mothers’ laps, our fathers’ tutelage. The values and virtues of a functional community, of people of worth and honor, would be reinforced in our educational system, and we would be able to seek out philosophical schools as adults to help us continue learning how to best live. None of that exists today, or rather the first may exist in small pockets, the second is completely lacking, and the third is as non-existent in our communities as to warrant little to no mention. Instead of these things we are given social media and media in general that is hostile to anything approximating good, devout living, and largely absent of virtue — unless mutilating children is now suddenly virtuous. The proof, as the old saying goes, is in the pudding and look at our communities. So, what do we do?
More than anything else, I think this is one of the major issues infecting our communities, and keeping us from building communities that will last. You cannot work with someone lacking in virtue, specifically the virtue of moral courage. It does not matter if someone claims to be an ally or a friend. If he or she is unwilling to stand with you in public, to speak in your defense, to eschew collaboration with those who public attack not only you but healthy devotion and polytheism in general, and to stand fast in the face of the opprobrium of others, then that person is a coward. You cannot reform, train, or transform a coward. They will destroy everything they touch.
That is what lack of virtue does: it destroys goodness. It pulls it down to the lowest common denominator. It spits on devotion and instead inserts the shallowest of platitudes where true courage ought to stand. We have a generation of people who have been taught by public discourse that emotion equals rational discourse, that political partisanship equals devotion, that prayer is useless, that when someone calls you a bad word you should allow that to overwhelm your true identity and slink away in shame, and that words are dangerous. Well, maybe on that last point they’re right: words are dangerous. They allow one to recognize cowardice and lack of virtue and call it what it is without euphemism.
We won’t have functional communities until people learn to stand with each other, support each other, and prioritize the Gods and Their respective cultus first and foremost. We won’t have functional communities until loyalty and faith are recognized as important things to cultivate; until courage is the watchword of the day, hand in hand with piety and devotion. It’s easy to feign courage when there’s nothing to lose. I want to see what one does when one’s reputation is on the line, when one has the potential to suffer real world loss. That is when you know the measure of a man.
Moral courage isn’t the only virtue worth cultivating. While their origin may be problematic, for Heathens, the Nine Noble Virtues aren’t a bad place to start, though I’d add a few. Most importantly, I’d ask: what kind of human being do my Gods want me to be? What are the cardinal virtues, the unchanging moral guideposts by which I can become that person? Then slowly start making the hard choices – and it may involve loss of friends, loss of things that one enjoys, change of seemingly innocuous habits –and stand by them. There’s no easy way to do this. One cannot wave a magic wand *poof* and suddenly become a man or woman of virtue. It’s hard work; and it’s work that never ends.
Failure is going to happen and it’s not the end either. We pick ourselves up. We examine our faults. We make amends. We do better in the future. There’s an old Heathen saying: “We are our deeds.” It’s the deeds I watch. Not the words coming out of someone’s mouth, or inbox. I have a lot of people in my world who say they stand behind my work, who say they support, as I, do the founding of functional polytheistic communities, who even are my friends. Yet I watch as publicly they cultivate those who have dedicated in some cases decades to attacking my work, slandering my name, and attempting to create a community that has no place for devotion and the Gods. Or I watch as some of these people stay silent when I am publicly attacked. You’re not friends. You’re cowards. I see you. I see your true nature. All the rhetoric, philosophy, and pretty words in the world won’t change it. You cannot trust a coward to stand, and you cannot trust them to have any loyalty whatsoever. These are people who would sell their own Gods while pretending to be devout. But you know, if they’re on the right political side of the equation who cares, right? (Yes, I’m being sarcastic).
I think it’s time for our communities to grow up a little bit, to remember that we are first and foremost religious communities and with our religions – if we want them to last, if we want them to matter – come values and virtues that also must be cultivated and sustained. If that latter process doesn’t start with courage it won’t happen at all.
- What is virtue? The term comes from the Latin word for “courage” or “valor” (virtus) and Merriam-Webster defines it now as “a particular moral excellence,” a definition with which I agree. These are the qualities that lead to excellence of character, conduct, and personhood.
Affiliate Advertising Disclosure (because of my link to C.S. Lewis’ book).
Since passing my qualifying exams in May, co-organizing/facilitating an academic conference on Syriac studies, and then teaching a whirlwind five-week theology course over the summer term, I’ve been taking some time off. Of course, my idea of taking time off involves… well, work, just different kinds of work from what I normally do.
Right now, I am participating in an art show in a lovely town in the Hudson Valley. I’ve shown my work both professionally and internationally before, but I took a break when I started my PhD studies, so this is the first serious show I’ve done since 2019. I had invitations but painting is very, very different headspace from academic work and I needed to focus on the latter fully. The curator of the show took a serious injury about two weeks before we were due to open, so I and several other artists are filling in for her for the month of August. This means hanging the show, gallery sitting, managing sales and records, and so forth. It’s not my first time at the rodeo but it is like having an unexpected second job dropped in one’s lap. I am, as they say in German, fix und fertig!
It’s nice to be painting again. Check out my Instagram (heathenliving) to see some of my recent work and a current still life in progress. I like taking progress shots and posted two tonight of a still life I’m working on. It fascinates me even now how a painting comes together.
I’ve also started to study classical guitar (I promised if I passed my exams, I’d do something new that I’d been thinking about for the better part of a year). I’m loving it, though my arms and hands hurt in new and amazing ways lol. I expected this though. The good thing about this isn’t just that I love the instrument, but that it allows me to connect with so many of my ancestors: the castrati and also the dancers that I honor (I honor my ballet lineage) – because it’s music and of course that dove tails with the world those spirits and I myself moved in at one time, my adopted mom who was a musician, and my great grandmother (maternal, biological) who was an opera singer and pianist. It’s nourishing part of me as well that greatly missed that world (in my case of ballet). I found a marvelous teacher who is very patient and very focused on proper technique and I’m having a blast.
Of course, I’m reading German every day (I decided that this summer was going to be given over to studying German – I’ve gotten rusty). I need to add Greek and Latin to it as well (lest I lose them) so I’ve started just recently alternating days: German and Latin one day, German and Greek the next. So, I haven’t been totally ignoring my academic work. The term starts Sept. 1 and I’m teaching a Byzantine Theology class so there’s also syllabus prep and such. No rest for the weary or wicked or…something. Lol.
On the spirit-work and devotional work side of things, I’ve been focusing extensively on the ephesia grammata. I was originally introduced to this family of spirits through a colleague years ago, but they never really clicked, especially since they were presented almost exclusively as useful for divination. I put the knowledge aside and never really did anything with them. Recently however, I and several members of my House received a cleaner re-introduction to these spirits and they’re fast becoming significant allies. This was unexpected and has been taking up a good deal of my time. It’s humbling to realize how much was taken from us in the period of conversion, how much was lost. The haunting process of bringing it forward once more, of opening doorways long forgotten, of restoring cultus and speaking again the sacred names, of taking up again the sacred contracts is awe-inspiring, and I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to take part in this process in whatever way that I have and shall continue to do in service and use to my Gods.
Recently, I’ve also received an email from a reader asking if I was going to finish my Freya devotional. I’ve had this on a serious backburner since I started grad-school. The request was so fervent that I am moving it to the front of my devotional “to-do” pile. This autumn, I will work on and hopefully finish my novena book – part of my pocket-sized devotional series – to Freya. After that, I hope to do one for Sigyn. So, I ask patience.
Finally, I’d like to recommend a TV series that my husband just introduced me to: “Reservation Dogs.” It’s a fascinating series set on a reservation in Oklahoma and focusing on a group of young people who are trying to find their way through the challenges of their lives. It’s so good!!! Best of all, it incorporates elements of spirituality and treats the indigenous spirits and customs with utmost respect. It’s refreshing and I highly recommend it.
Musically, my teacher has me listening to the guitar work of H. Villa-Lobos, so I’ve been focusing mostly on that. I go between that and vengeance country LOL. I love this particular genre of country music.
Lest I neglect books, I recently finished a fantastic history of ballet in Australia called Dancing Under the Southern Skies by Valerie Lawson. It was one of the best books on ballet that I’ve read in years. It has extensive chapters both on Anna Pavlova and Olga Spessivtseva – both of whom I honor as part of my professional lineage and it’s remarkably well researched. The book is a bit tough to find – it’s not available on amazon—but I got an inexpensive copy on abebooks just by chance.
That’s it for me for the night. What books, music, movies, or tv do y’all recommend? I’m always looking for good recommendations and love learning what folks are enjoying (just please, no marvel movies. They’re banned in our home by common consensus both for misusing and misrepresenting our Gods and for the anti-theistic attitude at their core).
I have heard a lot of friends talk about how they are not going to honor the fourth this year and I get it. Our country is a mess and a lot of what our Supreme court is doing is frightening and enraging to many people. As a country, we are divided and certainly are not living up to the promise embedded in our founding documents. We are not living up to the promise of America at its best.
This is exactly why I choose to celebrate the fourth (though for me, it’s muted. I ain’t going out in ninety-degree heat to grill lol bad grammar intended!). I’ll make offerings to our revolutionary war dead and hang my flag and we’ll have a nice dinner. I do this not because I think America is perfect – I’m an educator. I think America is FAR from perfect. I do this because we need to remind ourselves of what a remarkable experiment America is, and what truly extraordinary documents the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of rights are. I can’t help but think about the protests this past year in Hong Kong. People were singing our national anthem and waving our flag because they recognize the best ideals embedded in the idea of “America.” The fourth is a call to live up to those ideals every day and to demand our politicians do so as well.
I celebrate the fourth as a reminder that we haven’t yet lived up to the promise embedded in those documents and in the better choices our fore fathers and mothers made. I celebrate as a reminder that the Constitution is one of the most flexible and remarkable documents ever written in any country’s history. It is a flexible scaffolding designed to guide the country into the future. When that document was written, there had been nothing like it in the world. It came out of a desire for independence and freedom, and yes, equality (though thankfully our understanding of what that word means has grown since 1776). It was not inevitable that America would come to be as a nation. It is not inevitable that it will continue. Nothing is set in stone and that is why it is important to know our history. We have to know where we failed but also where we were victorious, where our best natures prevailed. We need to know where we come from in order to know what to cherish about our history and what to carry into the future. Nothing is inevitable. Each one of us has the opportunity to decide what tomorrow will be. Happy fourth.
I apparently celebrated by being spat on and called a “D*ke” as I was coming out of the post office today. The guy who yelled it was on a motorcycle and sped away before I could respond. Ironically, I’m probably more conservative than he is. I’m just not an asshole. All of this reminded me of when my mom and I were traveling abroad and were nearly gay bashed because we were walking arm in arm and we both had short hair. That was in France, by the way, so this type of random foolishness and prejudice isn’t just an American thing. In that instance, I scared the guys off, but it could have ended quite differently.
On a more positive note, Saturday, I was offered a discount on antique ephemera because “I see from your short hair that you are gay.” (I declined the offer because I am not in fact gay and did not want to take a discount meant for someone else. I got a discount anyway because when he asked my profession (theologian), I then correctly answered a theological question he put to me). I would like to note for the record that having really short hair does not make one gay. It is not like an initiatory mark to a special club. My short hair has no impact at all on who shares my bed. I am happily married to a man much hairier than I. lol. He has hair enough for both of us. I keep my hair cropped as a religious discipline to honor the military dead.
On an ironic note, I mentioned this to a friend of mine, and she is bi and has slept with women (and told me to include this note here lol) and is beautiful with long flowing blond hair and very feminine and she is always pissed that no one thinks she could ever be gay or bi. So, stop judging by hair, people. It’s stupid and makes you look like fools.
This all makes me wonder what my lesbian, gay, and bi friends are going through on a day to day as our country grows more polarized. It was a word today, it could just as easily have been a rock. I’m really sorry for whatever suffering you may be enduring, and I stand in solidarity with you, not just this month but all year long. Be strong, stand together, and don’t let shit like this get you down.
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
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.
- 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!
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.