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Polytheist Quotes

One of the projects dear to me is in re-building a devotional practice to our Gods. Devotions are the very backbone of religious praxis and experience. There was a meme circulating a while ago stating: “What they won’t teach you about the founders of western science, math, medicine and philosophy is that they believed in the ancient Gods.” This is sadly in most cases very true.

I’ve decided to start a new project, pulling authentic quotes and prayers to share across social media as a reminder that these great minds were Polytheists, that they themselves would have engaged in devotional practices. They weren’t afraid of theophany, direct experience with the Gods. They recognized it for the blessing it is. If you care to contribute your own favorite quotes feel free to share them in the comments below. These graphics are meant to be shared, so please do share them.

The images will be housed and updated over in a photo album on my official Facebook author page. This album will be added to as time and opportunity permits.

The first couple are below.

dionysos

Αἰσχύλο (also known as Aiskhylos, or Aeschylus) was born circa 525/524, and passed away circa 456/455 BC. He was an ancient Greek playwright, sometimes colloquially called the father of tragedies. Only a few of his estimated 70 plus plays have survived, among them is his trilogy of plays in The Oresteia (comprised of Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, and The Eumenides) represents the only complete trilogy of Greek plays by any playwright still extant, and it has been theorized that he was the first playwright to create stories told in trilogies. He also seems to have introduced to the theater more complex character interactions and more characters into his works then what had been standard before then. His plays won him first prize in the coveted Great Dionysia (a great festival dedicated to Dionysos) on more than one occasion.

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In this direct quote from Aiskhylos, we see an understanding in why we engage in devotional practices and veneration to the Gods.

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Serving Odin

I recently came across something I’d written awhile back, after a discussion about Odin. At the time, I was surprised at the response. It’s always interesting to see your relationship and your primary Deity through someone else’s eyes! A friend of mine, who has known me for over a decade,  made what i think is a particularly powerful comment, one that moved me deeply, and I think it might also allow me to segue into some important things about my work with Odin that I’d like to discuss. For that reason,  I want to quote the whole comment here. My friend F.B. said during the course of the discussion:

“I have felt, over more than a decade as your friend and colleague (albeit on a very different religious path) that your way (Odin’s way, to which you are obligated) was just so hard and painful. Most often, my thought has been, “Better you than me!” (Which, of course, makes it obvious why Odin chose you and not me.) I have felt sorry for you. You claim joy but I must take it on faith (and on my respect for you as an honest person) because, from the outside looking in (and from a drastically different faith tradition) your way seems all pain and no joy. But I know you don’t feel that way about it, so I simply accept that this is one of those things I’ll never understand. Thanks for trying to translate!”

I was really given pause by this comment. Certainly my life has been hard, brutally so at some points, but not because of Odin or my service to my Gods. They bring (sometimes vexation yes, but more often) joy. They have poured blessings into my hands. Sometimes life is just *hard* for reasons that have nothing to do with the Gods. So, I was really pondering upon reading this comment how it could possibly seem so grim. Has the work Odin has set me to do caused me pain? Yes, sometimes but that is an expected consequence of this work, both the internal work that I must do to keep my devotional relationships fit, the external ordeal that is sometimes asked, and the public work, which can be very irritating at times. The pain or difficulties are largely irrelevant. They don’t matter. They’re the terrain one must cross to get anything done. 

I suppose I look at it much as I looked at the physical pain I endured when I was a ballet dancer (and a ballet career involves a brutal level of physical pain as an ongoing norm): it’s irrelevant. I loved to dance. it was my goal in life to do so professionally (which I did for a brief time), and to do it well. I knew going in that in order to reach that goal, I’d have to endure a certain level of discomfort and pain as a daily thing. It was the ground I would have to walk across for what I wanted to achieve and that end goal was one of beauty and joy. I kept that goal always in mind through the daily grind. The discipline of honing and shaping and sometimes wrenching myself into the proper shape and form necessary to achieve that goal was often grim, but it was not the point and in view of reaching that ultimate goal it faded largely away. It simply was a necessary byproduct. I think on some level I approach the challenges inherent in my relationship with Odin (and the other Gods I venerate) in much the same way. 

Odin is a God that will challenge (as I think all Gods do in some way). He favors hard work and discipline and doing those things involves courage. C.S. Lewis wrote once that courage was the most necessary virtue–it was necessary to do all the others (my paraphrase)! He could have had Odin in mind when he wrote that. Because discipline and duty are not bad things for me — in fact, i find them very positive things and find that I tend to thrive under such strictures–I often write about them. I suppose were my personality different I could focus on other aspects of my devotional relationships but I don’t like to discuss the very personal things (they’re *personal* and I have very old-school notions of privacy), and I don’t like to discuss the blessings I’ve been given (that seems too much like bragging). What I like to talk about is the work. It defines me, not only in my relationship to Him but as a person and a human being. It is what makes me a full adult to my mind. This is a corollary to the utilitarian outlook Odin tends to hone in some of His people: we tend to define ourselves by our work. If i am not useful, I have no reason to *be.* Of course i’ve learned over the years that even the word ‘duty’ can be triggering to some. 

When I was still dean of an Interfaith Seminary, all of the instructors were required to assist with an end of the year retreat for the students. Lasting for three days, it was an intensive weekend of workshops, seminars, and ritual work designed to help the students prepare for their eventual ordination. It was quite enjoyable for the most part. During one of the workshops – this one student-led—the participants/audience were asked to call out words that defined their spirituality,  and what was important therein. I said “duty.” When I uttered that word you could feel the pall descend over the sweet little new agers. They were so intensely disturbed by the word that no one wanted to write it down (it carries all those nasty connotations don’t you know, like responsibility, maturity, focus, and discipline). Finally the student leading the workshop said ‘Joyful duty.’ It was my turn to be perplexed: what does emotion have to do with it? That is completely and utterly irrelevant. It does not matter if one’s duty is joyful or not, what matters is doing it. If we only did those things that brought us joy, what an insipid world this would be. It really highlighted for me the gulf between me and so many people that I meet. This is also why I dislike definitions of a Deity as “love” or of piety as ‘love.’ What happens when you’re not feeling the joy, does your practice go out the window? One would hope not. Duty is the torch that can guide one through those periods of darkness. To prioritize our emotions in the course of doing what is right is to make the process all about us and not what is right. I find little merit in doing this. 

That being said, I experience great joy and satisfaction in serving Odin. I would serve Him even were that not the case. Like pain, the joy is a byproduct, this time one of His presence. The public side of my work involves many challenges, but that is to be expected when we are restoring a broken tradition. First we must restore ourselves so that we can take up those threads and neither of those things is a painless process. Sometimes I write about that aspect of the work because others need to see that one can get through such a process; sometimes because like many others, I am still finding my way in this thing called devotion. Challenge, hard work, discipline, duty, and the expected level of courage that Odin demands are good things to me. They help immeasurably with that process and in fact, I believe are crucial. Odin is a war-god, something that I try never to forget and it is through the gifts of a warrior’s mindset that one can thrive in His service. There are other ways too, but this is the way to which He has called me. 

So what is the joy? I’ll lay it out in brief, broad strokes, just this once. There is having a purpose, being of use, furthering His agenda. Those things in themselves are tremendously satisfying and joyful. I don’t think I can explain how much so to someone for whom that is not a motivating factor! Then over and above everything else, there is Him, His presence, His wod (auto correct kept correcting this to ‘wood.’ No, auto-correct, not ‘wood’…that would go into that privacy place I was talking about earlier! lol). His presence is one of overwhelming terror-joy, true awe in the ancient sense, and at times pure ecstatic bliss. It drives, it hones, it motivates. Then there is the knowledge that He brings. He certainly knew what carrot to use to lure me in: teach me things, show me things, grant me knowledge. There is what He allows me to know and what He allows me to see but over and above it all, there is Him and that would in itself be blessing enough. We’re well matched, and regardless of how hard aspects of my service to Him may be, in the power of His presence, those difficulties are forgotten. 

We Don’t Own the Gods

I’m seeing a disturbing trend in certain polytheisms (for once, not Heathenry) of trying to close the door to any type of direct devotional experience or theophany. The idea that the Gods can call someone to Their worship, grant direct experience, communicate in various ways outside of divination is very threatening to some people. Well, tough titty said the kitty, it happens. All the time. It is the heart and soul of any licit tradition. You’d think these nay-sayers would learn from the mistakes Heathenry has made and not try to waltz merrily down the same rocky road.

I agree that there is a tremendous lack of discernment in certain dark corners of our communities (tumblr, lookin’ at you). I agree that too many people put their feelings, politics, sentimentalities, [insert obnoxious thing of choice here] before clean veneration of the Gods. I agree that many of those purporting to have fantastic devotional experiences are confused, lying, mentally ill, or what have you. Every community has this. But I part ways at the idea that such direct experience is antithetical to polytheism. The lack of discernment is the consequence of the attitudes of modernity and lack of good, intergenerational transmission of tradition, and lack of competent elders (or respect for elders).

Someone said to me in the course of these discussions: “I look at someone saying ‘the Gods called me to worship Them’ the same way I’d look at someone saying ‘I’m eating this ice cream because the vanilla ice cream called me to eat it.” All of which neglects or purposely ignores the key ontological difference between the two examples, namely that Gods have agency. They can and often do call us to veneration. We’re not always savvy or sensible about doing so, nor do we always respond to such inspiration as we should, but that doesn’t change that the Gods are quite willing to engage.

To rule that out is to betray the very tradition you’re trying to build. It’s spitting in the face of your ancestors who themselves had powerful devotional experiences – and how do we know this? Well, they had a powerful, intergenerational tradition that was rich, complex, and birthed some of the greatest thinkers in the Western world.

When you shit on a person for their experiences with the Gods, consider for a moment that you may in fact be shitting on those Gods too. There’s not really any coming back from that, especially not when it’s done because you want to be edgy or rule out liberal (or conservative)  contamination into your tradition.

Piety and Purity

῾αγνον χρη ναοιο θυωδεος εντος ιοντα
᾽εμμεναι, ἁγνεια δ᾽εστι φρονειν ὀσια.

“He who goes inside the sweet-smelling temple must be pure.
Purity is to think religiously correct thoughts.”

I think this quote from the temple of Asclepius at Epidaurus really hits at something essential about spiritual purity. It begins in the mind, in how we each choose to cultivate and develop our inner landscape. At its core, purity – being free of miasma and in a state of spiritual integrity—begins with cultivation of the mind: thinking correct thoughts, desiring correct things, having the correct priorities. Those things are all within our capacity to acquire. We control whether or not we are successful here. No one else can do this for us.

What is correct? That is for the devotee and his or her Gods to figure out with the scaffolding of one’s tradition and perhaps one’s elders and diviners as helpful guides. The important thing is to know that it is fully within our capacity to develop habits of “religiously correct thoughts.” This is something each person can do. Like devotion, it’s a matter of choosing to take responsibility for what goes on in our heads and hearts and choosing to work at that daily.

This is why it’s important to consider carefully what we allow to take up residency in our minds. What we fill our thoughts with, what we allow free reign within ourselves will shape us in relation to holy things.

Cooking for Hermes

It is hotter than hell today in New York, even with air conditioning. I’m taking a break from a full day of cooking to write this and it’s a nice chance to sit own under a fan and rest my feet. I have deepest respect for the women in our ancestral lines who spent the majority of their time running a home, cooking, cleaning. I love to cook but don’t have to do so daily and I forget how exhausting it can be. It’s good to be reminded sometimes and I find it helps me connect more to my female ancestors overall.

Anyway, Hermes did us a good turn recently and asked for chicken. I divined to see if He wanted full sacrifice but the answer was no, cooking chicken for Him would suffice and since He always seems to approve of citrus dishes (especially sweets) when we offer them, I’m making lemon chicken. (I’ve included all the recipes below. He also wanted pie). Whenever I do a divination session, I ask if it’s ok to close the session. We literally could not close the divination until we’d worked out what meal to cook for Him. Unlike with sacrifice in our house, we’ll share in this meal too, unusual for us, but something He wanted.

So, in case anyone is interested, I wanted to share the recipes. Don’t poo-poo the vinegar pie. It’s an Appalachian dish, dating to the early 18th century, a poor-man’s lemon tart. It does not taste like vinegar at all, but like a lemon pie or tart citrus custard. So, give it a chance. You won’t be disappointed.

Lemon Chicken

Ingredients: 3 pounds of chicken or 4 breasts with bone.
4-6 lemons cut into slices
2 TBLS dried oregano
salt, pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425 F. Rinse chicken and pat dry with paper towels. Coat bottom of baking dish with olive oil. Arrange lemon slices on olive oil. Combine spices and rub thoroughly over chicken. Place chicken skin side down over lemon. Bake 20 minutes. Turn chicken skin side up. Reduce heat to 350 F and continue cooking 35 minutes (longer if necessary but until chicken is very tender You can, if you wish, broil it for a few minutes to cook the skin).

 

Basic White Sauce and Creamed Spinach

Equal parts butter and all-purpose flour (about 1/3 stick of butter). Put it in a pan. Melt and whisk together. Add spices – since I’m doing this with spinach, I used red pepper flakes, salt, and nutmeg. Add at least two cups of milk – eyeball it. Add until you think you’ve added too much. Stir continuously until it thickens. Add spinach. Keep stirring – it WILL cook down and get creamy just when you think it won’t.

 

Oven-Roasted Potatoes

Two and a half pounds of all-purpose potatoes
1 TBLS salt, 1 tsp pepper, olive oil, 4 finely chopped shallots
3 large chopped garlic cloves.

Preheat oven to 450 F. Coat bottom of pan with 2/3 cup olive oil. Cut potatoes into quarters if they’re small, or dice them if large. Spread in a single layer on the oil. Add spices, shallots, and garlic. Toss thoroughly. Cook for 20 minutes. Turn and stir. Cook for another 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.

 

Vinegar Pie

4 eggs, 1 ½ cups white sugar, ½ cup butter melted (one stick), 2 TBS. apple cider vinegar, ½ tsp. cinnamon, ¼ tsp. nutmeg, 1 ½ tsp vanilla extract.

Preheat oven to 425 F. Combine everything and mix well with mixer. Pour into 9” pie shell. Cook 25 minutes. This WILL BE WOBBLY when it is done. Just relax. Let it cool before you cut it and it’ll firm up as it cools. LEAVE IT ALONE UNTIL IT IS COOL. Trust me on this one.

(I made a whole-wheat pie crust today for this, but you could use any type of pie crust. I have various recipes that I use and it just depends on how lazy I’m feeling. Lol).

Now I’m off to finish my prep for dinner.

Sigyn – QOTD

I’ve been meditating on Sigyn quite a lot the last few days. My husband has a poem about Her in his new book (which will be available shortly) and I want to share a line from it that so perfectly encapsulates Her power: 

“She is as old as the mountains and as young as yearning.” 

However She chooses to present Herself, this, more than anything else I’ve ever read on Her, or at least that i’ve read in a very long while, so beautifully describes Her. 

Dionysian Kenosis

(again, rambling…you’ve been warned)

 So, the subject of ‘kenosis’ came up in the first paper I heard today. When I looked it up (because I’m toggling in this conference between Catholic and Orthodox perspectives and also, I’d heard of it solely in the context of a goal of devotional practice), initially I saw it defined as Christ’s rejection of his divine nature during the Incarnation. It’s more complex than that, but that initial definition did get me thinking. Why would this ‘putting aside’ of divine nature have to be ‘rejection?’ So, thinking of our theologies, I’m immediately reminded of Euripides’ play “The Bacchae,” in which the poet has Dionysos declare that (to educate Thebes) He will “put aside His divinity” taking human form. While this is a play, Dionysos is the God of theatre and it does reflect the practices and language and ideas and mysteries related to this particular God. Could one say that what is happening when Dionysos does this is a type of kenosis? (which the theologian just described as ‘self-emptying, taking the form of the servant’).

I wouldn’t describe any of this as a rejection of divine nature. Rejection would imply a permanent disavowal, wouldn’t it? ‘Putting aside’ implies that one can then put it back on (the root of the word ‘rejection’ implies a throwing back of something). Even within the Incarnation, was it a rejection? Was not God the father ever with the son even through the intense humanity and human suffering of the Incarnation? For our purposes did not Dionysos remain divine even when He was wearing human flesh?

Kenosis is more readily Christ’s emptying out of Himself to be open to God’s will. It’s…complicated. I do think ideally, we as devout people should seek to empty ourselves out (the meaning of κενοω) so that we can be filled with our Gods, so that we can be completely receptive to Them and Their will. The lecturer now speaking keeps talking about “self-emptying obedience” and I take issue with the way in which she’s using the latter term…devotion is more active, an active annihilation of all those things that would keep us from being fully open to the Gods. There’s nothing passive in it, save for the receptivity that allows us to eventually experience our Gods. And even within that level of receptivity, whatever obedience there is becomes full alignment, a partnership not an abrogation of personal will but a uniting of that will with our Gods…do Christians mean the same when they use this term?

Back to my initial point, I can totally see kenosis as a means and goal of devotional living (regardless of one’s tradition. I think ultimately we should empty ourselves of ourselves, of all our bullshit so that we can be the most useful tools and servants possible of our Gods. THAT is exactly what devotion entails), but I struggle to see it applied to the incarnated Christ. Returning to Dionysos, which is far more relevant to our praxis than Christ (with all respect to my Christian friends), when He put aside His divinity, was He emptying Himself out so that He could better align with HIS true will?

I want to parse that out…what does it mean that a polytheist could accurately say Dionysos is putting aside His divinity…here’s the Greek:

ὧν οὕνεκ᾽ εἶδος θνητὸν ἀλλάξας ἔχω
μορφήν τ᾽ ἐμὴν μετέβαλον εἰς ἀνδρὸς φύσιν.(Bacchae, line 54)

for which purpose, having set aside my form (lit: that which is seen)
I bear a mortal shape and I have changed mine into the nature (φύσιν) of a man. (my translation)

If we look at ‘nature’ in the Aristotelian sense, it is the motivating essence, the material cause for a thing. It is the essential substance of a thing. In the Heraclitan sense, it is a thing’s natural development. Is Dionysos here lowering Himself down to the human level and allowing things to thus play out according to human rules and decisions? Its opposite is νομός, or law and custom so is this a means of giving more freedom and loopholes for events to play out? Is there a freedom in incarnation not found in the immortal sphere (a horrifying thought)? I was discussing this with Edward Butler (wanted to be sure that I was correct, that this was as intriguing a passage as it always had seemed to me, because surprisingly little’s been made of it in classics) and he noted that, “eidos often means just the visual appearance of something; but what does a mortal look like, qua mortal? Then in the next line we have andros physin, which has the same ambiguity. Physis can mean just the outward appearance of something, but it can also mean something deeper, the “nature” of something. Euripides seems to be playing a bit with the idea that Dionysos is taking on more than just the look of a human.” So, I think something is going on here and I can’t help but wonder if it’s something more than just a poet taking theological and poetic liberties.

Perhaps it makes no sense to make this comparison – Christians do what they do with their theology and kenosis is a particularly Christian theological term—but the entire conversion reminded me so strongly of that passage about Dionysos I could not help but doing playing with it here.

And…I went back to the Greek to the word εἶδος. It is the word from which we get our word ‘icon’ and I believe also ‘idol.’ It is something that can be seen, a form which can be seen. So, Dionysos is transforming His appearance. The presence of the word φύσιν complicates things for me. It has certain specific meanings philosophically, Is it all simply a change in appearance not reality here (unlike the licit view of the incarnation in which the humanity assumed by Christ is reality … unless one is a Docetist lol). I could go round and round with this for hours but I need to stop myself. Argh.

 

EDIT: So, thus am I served for writing this, while taking notes during a lecture, and discussing it all withe a friend via email. I had my etymology wrong above. “icon” comes from “eikon” and ‘idol’ from εἴδωλον. We get our word “idea” from εἶδος. What i wrote above still stands though: Dionysos is transforming into the idea of a mortal man…close enough to appearance to still ask: what does that mean? what is a God’s idea of mortal man and how would that translate to other mortals? 

Ancestral Graces

Honoring one’s ancestors isn’t just a metaphor. It isn’t about chanting their names and pouring out libations (though these things are good in and of themselves as a place from which to begin). At its core it means shouldering their debt, digging into it, eating their pain and spitting up their bitterness and finding a way out and through—for them and for yourself—to healing, reparation, and wholeness once again.

We have no humanity without our ancestors and we carry their sufferings in our flesh, in the scarred skin of our minds, in every strand of our DNA, in the rough deep well of our memories collective and unconscious. It marks our bones, twists our marrow and in the end it lifts us up. Through it all, they elevate us just as we through our rites and prayer and the grace of remembrance seek to elevate them. We carry our dead with us always and they too bear us upon their backs. It begins and ends with our dead and they can carry us to our Gods as well. They have sacrificed themselves for our enfleshment. We can shoulder the weight of their lives.

A Weekend Away and Some Theology

(This rambles…a lot lol. You have been warned).

So, I’ve been in New York City the last couple of days attending a theology conference. The title of the conference is “Faith, Reason, Theosis” and so far, it’s been pretty amazing. The scholastic currents being discussed (at least in day one) are well outside of my wheelhouse so I won’t discuss them here save to say that the entire idea of theosis makes me deeply uncomfortable. I did have an interesting talk with a Jesuit professor of philosophy (I took his course on Augustine a few years ago and it blew my mind) who agreed that, at least in part, ideas of theosis for Christians were influenced by pre-Christian concepts of deification. Still, it makes me deeply uncomfortable when it’s applied as a goal of faith, especially when post-modernists remove the sacramental scaffolding and even at times “God” from the equation. Thank you, no. If I want that, I can listen to a ceremonialist drone on and on. Lol. (Granted, this isn’t my area, so I may be grossly minimalizing the issues here and I’m drawing the questions and comments below largely from only a single day of speakers – there’s still two more to go. At any rate, the focus of the conference is discussion of Orthodox and Catholic responses to the idea of theosis). I was tired when I arrived at the conference, and at first, despite excellent presentations, I was a little bored (Thomas Aquinas—not my thing) but then the Q&A started and that was absolutely fascinating. It was almost enough, almost, to make me want to hold another polytheist conference. Hah. Don’t hold your breath.

Anyway, during the opening talks, I was scribbling notes and several questions arose from the speakers. Ignoring the pages of my journal where I kept noting that “Modernity=Nihilism”, (I also made crazy little sketches of presenters – idle hands after all and all that) the relevant things I want to discuss here are as follows (I will reframe from the singularity of the Divine articulated by the speakers to a more natural and appropriate plurality in my responses):

• How can a conscious spirit be anything other than a desire for God?

• God owes His creatures grace within the terms of creation (the grace to achieve theosis) but it’s a debt owed only to His own goodness.

• How can there be “excess” in loving one’s God? Many modern philosophers/theologians seem to speak of the “excessive qualities of the cross” in ways that seem to imply that they want to erase their God from the process and goal of theosis and replace the sacramental scaffolding with the human ego.

The first question, I believe, comes from Neo-Platonic influences on religious (in the case of the conference, Christian) thought. I don’t argue that our souls and the fullness of our being should be comprised, materia prima, of longing and love for the Gods. I think it is the only part of us that truly matters. When we peel away the dross and pollution of modern living (hell, just of living because let’s face it, the ancients wrestled with these issues too), at our core I firmly believe that (when we are rightly ordered), our spirits are expressed longing for the Gods. I also think that every single thing in our current world teaches us to obscure, deny, and annihilate that longing.

I will admit, listening to this particular speaker, I did think “well, aren’t you a bit of an optimist about the human condition” lol but it’s important to remind ourselves not to mistake external ephemera for the true, essential nature of our beings. I also suspect that this statement: that at the core of a soul is longing for the Gods may make some readers angry. If so, consider why. Why would you not long for the Gods with every fibre of your being? I think the real challenge of our various spiritualities is not only the discovery of that longing, recognizing it as our essential state of being, but also cultivating it, tending that fire, stripping away the dross, feeding it, and allowing it to burn away everything else.

A day or so before I came into the city for the conference, I was watching a movie with my husband and a friend and the lead female reminded me strongly in appearance of a student – call her H.– I had over twenty years ago. This student was three or four days away from her initiation and bailed. She became pissy about it too, justifying her decision by trashing the idea of the experiential devotion inherent in the initiatory process (as being only relevant to specialists. “Not everyone needs to be a mystic” blah blah blah. No, not everyone does, but baseline devotion does not a mystic make). A friend of mine who was hanging out with us asked me why this woman would do such a thing. I said “at the eleventh hour she realized initiation would change everything.” My friend agreed but didn’t see the problem (unlike H. my friend is not a spiritual coward). I explained that “H. didn’t want to make the Gods a priority in her life. She was afraid it might interfere with her secular, job-related priorities of climbing the corporate ladder and making money. She didn’t want to become the kind of person she thought could live a devoted life and she didn’t want to have to reprioritize her life.” My friend asked the most salient question of the night, “Didn’t she realize that putting the Gods first makes everything better? On the basest most crass level, They help us in our work in the world. They fill our lives with bounty and blessings.” And that is the question. My only response was a poem by the Islamic poet Rabi’a:

O my Lord,

if I worship you
from fear of hell, burn me in hell.

If I worship you
from hope of Paradise, bar me from its gates.

But if I worship you
for yourself alone, grant me then the beauty of your Face.

(Rabi’a, “[O my Lord]” translated by Jane Hirshfield, from Women in Praise of the Sacred (New York: Harper Collins, 1994).)

I will let this stand for now and move on to the second question or comment really, since I wrote it down because I have very strong feelings that the Gods owe us nothing. They may give us everything but They don’t owe us. We ought not give sacrifices and offerings just to get things, but because it is the right thing to do, because it honors Them, because those relationships are the most essential we will ever have and it is right and proper to make windows into the world through which the Gods may walk. It isn’t and shouldn’t be about us. Yes, at times offerings and devotion may follow a do ut des model – if I need something from a Deity, I won’t approach with empty hands. It’s rude. But that is not the only nor the most essential model of veneration. To imply that it is cheapens our traditions and frankly spits in the faces of our ancestors. It shouldn’t be “I give in order to receive” but “I give because I have received” or maybe better still, “I give because I love.”

Returning to the bullet points I noted, I was struck by the idea articulated in bullet point #2 that God owes humanity His grace by virtue of the contract of creation but the debt is NOT one owed to humanity itself but rather to His own goodness. In other words, God owes Himself. It’s a nice reframing and re-articulation of an issue that plagues the Heathen community: the entitlement we all too often feel before our Gods. We are not owed a god damned thing for the paltry devotion we deign to show. We have been given everything and it is a debt we cannot hope to replay. The devotional relationships that we ought to cultivate with our Gods aren’t for the purpose of getting things, or even with any hope of repayment of a contract. It is our natural, good, and rightly ordered state of being. It is our purpose, the highest and most natural expression of our souls.

Finally, one of the issues that kept coming up in post-modernist pushback against scholastic and pre-scholastic ideas of theosis was this language of “excess” in devotion. One source talked about the “excess of the crucifixion” rather the excess of devotional response to it. I see this in some modern Catholics. Case in point: I recently gave a Catholic relative L. Montfort’s classic devotional text on Mary and while she is very devout she really struggled with it, because it wasn’t Jesus focused in the way that many Protestant “devotionals” might be. The idea of giving reverence and specifically heart-felt devotion to the Mother of God—in the way that was traditional, licit, and universal within her tradition for generations– was uncomfortable (and I blame Vatican II and its bullshit for a lot of this but, not my circus, not my monkeys. I do find it complicated though. Gods know that the weakening of the organizational Catholic Church is not a bad thing for growing polytheisms, but then on the other side of that, I think that any weakening of devotional fervor is a win for evil and doesn’t serve us in our devotions either so …my response to that all is rather complicated). It seemed “excessive” to her. Post-moderns would, I believe, cast any devotion as excessive. This is problematic.

Personally, I do not believe it is possible to be too excessive in one’s fervor and love for one’s Gods. That is exactly what ought to fuel our soul’s longing, feed it, nourish it, encourage it. Whenever I hear Pagans or Polytheists (and especially Heathens) talk about how one is too excessive in one’s devotions (and it happens, less now than a decade ago but it still happens) I really just want to laugh in their faces and tell them they are theologically unschooled. Not today, Heathen child, not today. This is a bullshit free zone. Still, I think it’s important to think about what it is in our culture (that has seeped into our traditions) that would teach us that devotion, any devotion particularly the messy, emotional, embodied kind is ‘excessive.’ What does that mean? When loving the Gods is our souls’ reason for being, how can there be any excess?

This last question I’m going to explore more fully and hopefully will have time to do so over the next couple of days. Right now, I’m going to bring this to a close since it’s running rather long and I actually need to get my butt up and get out the door for day two of this amazing conference. Enjoy your day, folks. 

Happy International Women’s Day

frigga

Day 3 – For the Mistress of Fensalir

Mistress of Fensalir, You bind the home together,
weaving blessings amongst those who dwell within.
You wield hospitality as a unifying force,
gracious and indomitable in Your power.
You are beloved of the God,
Who brings the warband to Your hall,
and it is Your fierce protection,
that sustains them.
Unmatched in oracular skill,
You see crises before they manifest,
and in Your wisdom, avert them.
Weaver of hope and courage,
endurance and fierce grace,
You knit these attributes into the hearts
of every woman under Your care;
and to every woman You are a sanctuary.
You work Your will
through a retinue of Mighty Goddesses,
Who journey forth across the Worlds.
Care and keeping, healing, and frith-making force
imbue Your Hall, and it is through You and You alone,
the sovereignty of Asgard is maintained.
Spinner of clouds and the threads of wyrd,
Teach us to rise above the shortsighted mundanity
of our world, to emulate You in ordering
the sometimes shaky scaffolding of our lives.
May Your blessings fall, oh Goddess,
on all women Who seek You out,
and on all those Who love them.

(by G. Krasskova)