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A Cautionary Tale

I don’t usually advocate reading our sacred stories for moral exempla. I think that in polytheistic religions the relationship between lore and living morality was complicated and polytheists tended to draw their moral code from their community and country values more than from their cosmological stories (1). In many cases, they were sensible enough to know that in no way can the Gods ever properly be submitted to human morality or authority. Our insight is too narrow, our understanding too limited. For us to drag our Gods down to our level is often gross impiety.  Now, that’s not to say we shouldn’t examine and work out various types of exegesis for our myths. We may infer, examine, and certainly, I think we are also expected to use our reason. After all, Hoenir gave us cognition and just as we engage with our world through the corporeality of our sensorium, we also engage with it through our capacity to reason, through Hoenir’s gift; and it is by means of that engagement that we hone our characters. To submit the Gods to our morality though, is to elevate ourselves above Them in the cosmic architecture. That is something that twists that sacred architecture out of true. It is not our rightful place, and we are not equipped to hold it—no matter how arrogant we may be, we are not equal to the Gods (and that this needs to be said every so often in our communities just fills me with sadness). So, while I usually wouldn’t engage in the type of reading that is shortly to follow, every so often, there is a story that stands out, either as a positive exemplum of piety (Lay of Hyndla, where we see Ottar praised and rewarded for the incredible devotion and depth of his piety to Freya) or, to turn my attention to the Greco-Roman world, where we are given a clear warning of the dangers of impiety (the story of Hippolytus). It’s this latter that I would like to discuss today. 

The lesson in Hippolytus is one that some of us take for granted, but it’s also one that I know I’ve struggled with in the past. It’s not immediately intuitive. I’d like to say that’s because of the way monotheistic religions permeate our culture, or because of the influence of modern popular culture but I don’t think that is actually the reason. If it were, we wouldn’t see this being teased out as an issue by ancient authors. I just think it’s possible to love one’s primary Deity or Deities so much, so deeply, that it can be very, very difficult to also see other Deities as equally holy—especially if those other Deities have areas of expertise diametrically opposed to our own “Patron” Gods. We are shaped and formed after all by those Gods that we love and to Whom we are especially devoted. One of the beauties of polytheism is that there is no expectation of devotional exclusivity. Moreover, often what is correct for one devotee to a particular Deity is forbidden to another devotee of that Deity. It can be confusing. It can be difficult to say: “these practices that my God encourages are holy but so are these diametrically opposite practices the devotee of God X is doing over there. Those things just aren’t holy for *me*.” This was a powerful lesson that I actually learned by reading a medieval Christian mystic. 

Years and years ago I was taking a medieval studies class wherein I had to read the works of Italian mystic Angela of Foligno (1248 C.E. – 1309 C.E.). While I love my medieval mystics, I’m not a huge fan of Franciscans in general (she was a Franciscan tertiary) but that wasn’t where the lesson came in. Angela often worked with lepers. These were the lowest of the low in the society of the time. They were marginalized, forced to live away from the community, and generally treated like garbage. (This was partly because there was, at the time, no cure for leprosy and people feared contagion. For those wondering, a cure was discovered in the 1940s and 50s). Angela would go and minister to them, bringing food, treating their wounds, even bathing their wounds. At one point, while she was washing a leper’s legs and feet, she had this interior vision of Christ, and she realized that the leper was Christ, that she was never closer to her God than when she was caring for these men and women. Some of the damaged tissue had peeled off the leper and had fallen into the bowl of water she was using to bathe him. Get ready for it. In devotion to her God and in a moment of ecstatic revelation she drank the water. The first time I read that I was utterly, thoroughly, and in every possible way revolted. I think I even got physically ill from reading it. I still find it one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever read. At the same time, for Angela, this was an intensely holy thing. It was sacred. It drew her closer in devotion to her God. It was not holy for me, but it didn’t have to be. This was something between Angela and her God. Learning to hold that paradox (?) in my head, to acknowledge that something like this was sacred work, a sacred act, but just maybe not for me personally with my God was a huge insight. For one thing, it’s been a tremendous help when I acquired an apprentice who was as far away in her devotional orientation from the ascetic practices I prefer as one could possibly be. I was having the same aversion and disgust that I had with Angela when the same lesson hit me like a two-by-four again: this is holy for her and her God. It isn’t for me and that’s OK. It’s that last part that I think a lot of us struggle with, the part about that difference being OK. 

Why am I bringing this up now? Because one does no honor to one’s God by spitting on the mysteries of another Deity and recently I’ve been seeing a lot of that in various fora. I’ve already written before about how none of us get to speak for our Gods with impunity. If we aren’t willing to qualify our statements, to acknowledge the fallibility of our humanity, and to step back from using our relationships with our Gods (be it as devotee, mystic, godspouse, god-servant, priest, or shaman – or anything else) as a club to attack the cultus of other Deities then we are betraying those self-same Gods and our work is deeply compromised. See my previous article titled “Theological Integrity.”  It’s quite easy to share one’s religious experiences and even to discuss and argue about what our own experience has taught us about our Gods provided we qualify it instead of making normative statements intended to shut down religious discourse and silence other devotees, specifically if this latter is done by calling into question the integrity of their Gods. It is never our place to assume the right to submit our Gods to our puny authority (2). This is where polytheism gets really complicated, though I suspect every religion faces this in some way, shape, or form, especially with practices labeled as falling into the ‘mystic.’ 

While we have plenty of positive exempla in the Norse lore exhorting piety and devotion, exhorting humility, and common sense. I’m going to look instead at a Greco-Roman story to make my point, because it is very well known and very, very obvious in its intended interpretation. I would like us to consider the story of Hippolytus. 

Hippolytus was the son of Theseus. He was an ardent, passionate, deeply devout devotee of Artemis. Because She is a virgin huntress, Hippolytus wished to remain chaste and virginal for Her. He was disgusted by sex, dismissive of marriage, and deeply contemptuous of Aphrodite and Her mysteries. He was so contemptuous that Aphrodite grew angry at his hubris. She cursed him (and one may infer that She had the consent of Artemis in this matter). His stepmother Phaedra fell madly in love with him, pursuing him to the point that she was physically ill in mind, body, and spirit. Hippolytus, utterly revolted, rebuffs her so violently that in some versions of the story, she kills herself, after leaving a suicide note accusing Hippolytus of rape. Theseus, who has been granted power by Poseidon, curses Hippolytus and Poseidon sends a sea-monster to attack the young man’s horses. Hippolytus is flung out of the chariot, and tangled in the reins, is dragged to death. Artemis reveals the truth to Theseus and establishes cultus for Hippolytus so that his memory and story will not fade. 

What is the lesson we ought to take from this? Well, I think it shows us that while it is right and proper to venerate and love our Gods, to have deep and specific devotion to a Deity (as Hippolytus did to Artemis), it is NOT ok, and is in fact a polluted and curse-worthy act to use that devotion to revile the mysteries of another Deity. 

We should not ever diminish the relationship between Deities to petty, human relations. They are GODS.  It’s not for us to ever criticize our Gods. It’s for us to look for wisdom in Their stories. To think that we are equal to the Gods, to think that one can be a God is the height of delusion. It is a moral and spiritual sickness. Avoid the impious. Avoid the contamination they put into the world like shit with every breath.

Notes: 

  1. Herodotus for example, in talking about what makes a people, clearly separates “honoring the same Gods,” from “following the same nomoi, or customs and laws.” This is picked up by multiple ancient writers and reflects a different hierarchy of understanding. Religion did not do the work of defining our morality (upbringing, paideia, philosophy did those things, albeit it in many cases likely informed by devotion). Religion was protocol for engaging with the Holy Powers, for engaging with the sacred and the holy. 
  2. Each God or Goddess is equally holy. What is complicated for devotees is that They don’t often agree, are often at cross-purposes, and sometimes have opposite agendas for Their devotees, or opposing taboos, etc. This is messy but that’s polytheism. We don’t have a single holy book telling us precisely how to do things from which there shouldn’t be any deviation because we’re not monotheists. (Hell, they don’t even have perfect accord over how to interpret their own holy writings). Heathenry is not, as much as some people would like it to be, Protestant Christianity.  Something a God gives to a person can be perfectly right and true *for that person*. There are few universals save that piety is good and we should cultivate it.

A Temple to Bacchus in Lebanon

A friend of mine is currently working in Beirut and had the opportunity to visit Baalbeck, which is home to a temple complex in stunning condition. The city was known as Heliopolis in ancient times (a quick look at wiki confirmed this) and the temple complex, a UNESCO World Heritage site, has a Temple to Bacchus and a Temple to Jupiter. My friend was kind enough to allow me to share his photographs with you, though he wishes to remain anonymous. These are just breathtaking (esp. the plaque with the image of Bacchus).

Bacchus plaque in Baalbeck’s Temple of Bacchus
Baalbeck Temple Complex Columns
Baalbeck Temple Complex
Panoramic view of Baalbeck temple complex

BA’s New Devotional to Athena is Now Available

The latest in devotionals to the Greek Gods, Bibliotheca Alexandrina’s new devotional to Athena “Shield of Wisdom” is now available on amazon. It will shortly be available in electronic versions too. Here’s what the blurb on the back of the book says:

“Wisdom. Weaving. Warfare.

Known to the Greeks as Athena, and to the Romans as Minerva, she leapt fully grown from the skull of the Lord of Thunder. Frighteningly intelligent, quick-witted and fiercely loyal, she is a Goddess who watches over heroes, warriors, and artisans alike. A Goddess of the mind, she admires and rewards cleverness and creativity. And, while she inspires intense devotion in ancient and modern polytheists, she also inspires passionate debate. Is she a friend to women, or does she always favor the father? When she transformed Medusa into a gorgon and Arachne into a spider, was she motivated by compassion or something else? And what of her relationships with her fellow Deities, such as Hephaistos, Ares, and Aphrodite? Are they adversarial, antithetical, or complementary?

Within these pages, you will find poems of praise and rites in her honor. You will also find essays and personal reflections that question the Goddess, that challenge her, that analyze the myths around her and what they mean to us, and what they reveal about the Goddess herself. All of these are offered to her with an open heart, and a sincere questioning mind — which we hope she will find as pleasing as any reverent hymn.

All hail Athena, Keen-Eyed and Ever-Curious.”

I have one prayer to Her included.

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I Hail the Lame God

He of the crooked and twisted foot,

Master of smithcraft, sorcery, and beauty,

He born of the heavens and tethered to the earth,

Mighty One and wise. I hail Him.

That would be Hephaestus and while I don’t have any particular devotional practice to Him, I will honor Him whenever the chance presents itself and I will do so by His ancient titles, including Κυλλοποδιων: lame/of the crooked-foot. The epithets of a God are mysteries in and of themselves. They are doorways into a unique and particular experience of that God and contain keys to understanding – in as much as any human may—one small aspect of a Holy Power. It is never for us to discard an epithet because we feel too “woke” for devotion. To do this is a disgusting display of arrogance, stupidity, and impiety.

Yes, folks. This issue is coming around again. I’ve written about it twice before here and here in more depth. Those who pay cultus to Hephaestus should batten down the proverbial hatches because this idiocy is back, running like shit through a goose in the more polluted corners of tumblr (which means, we’re going to have a new crop of converts who have zero idea of how to properly address this Deity, and feel ashamed when they are pulled to honor Him as Κυλλοποδιων. Wooooo. Fun times. *Sarcasm*).

I’m seeing nonsense like, “you can only use this epithet for Hephaestus if you yourself are mobility impaired.” Well, wrong. Anyone may use it whenever that person wishes to connect to Him and gain deeper understanding of His power. That’s what this epithet is about: His power. You do not have to be mobility impaired to call Him by this name.

I’ve also seen this one: “even if you’re mobility impaired, if you choose to use this, be sensitive to our feelings.” NO. Your feelings simply do not matter here. Not where devotion is concerned. They are yours to manage, not ours. Your feelings do not take center stage in the matter of devotion—especially when the devotional relationship has nothing to do with you– and certainly not in the relationship between a devotee and his or her Gods. You go on feeling oppressed by a title – this is what, in part, an epithet is: a title, an expression of a God’s power—while the rest of us will go pour out some offerings.

I’m done even trying to be conciliatory or nice about this. The people who spread this bullshit are spreading pollution, lies, and wickedness to newcomers too new and inexperienced to know any better and they’re peddling their pollution through the vehicle of being socially aware and “woke.” It’s foul and disgusting and so are those who push this crap.

It is not our place to start removing, burying, and ignoring the most sacred epithets of our Gods. Instead, we’d be better served by contemplating what those epithets mean, what they teach us about the Deity in question, and how we can better honor the Holy Powers in our lives. Of course, that’s not going to get you a pat on the head or allow for the acquisition of oppression points.

Now this crippled bitch, who belongs to a one-eyed God, is going off to bed. Good fucking night.

Excellent Online Exhibit via ISAW on Galen

ISAW, the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, currently has a fabulous online exhibit about Galen up. It talks about Galen’s life, education, and contributions to the field of medicine, what medicine was like in the ancient world, the pharmaceuticals, tools, and surgical techniques available to physicians, women’s medicine and female physicians, and Asclepius among other things. I had a blast going through it and learning things last night. For those interested, Check it out here.

Funerary or votive relief depicting a heroized doctor; near the doctor’s head is an open box or cabinet with surgical instruments. Roman, 1st century BCE–1st century CE. Marble. Probably made in the Peloponnese, Greece. H. 67 cm; W. 83 cm; D. 7.5 cm. Antikensammlung der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz: SK 804. Photo: Ingrid Geske. © Antikensammlung der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz (taken from the Galen exhibit section on Galen’s Medical Education).

20% Off Sale About to End

I am running a 20% OFF sale on all art, books, bookmarks, and prayer cards in my etsy shop Wyrd Curiosities through January 31, 2021. Use this code to redeem: TGI2021 (or click the link). There’s more than 300 prayer cards available for our Gods and Goddesses across a range of polytheistic traditions: Norse, Germanic, Celtic, Gaulic, Welsh, Roman, Greek, Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and so much more.

Yuletide Shopping Guide – Greco-Roman Products

I created the Yuletide Shopping Guide in part because Yule is one of my favorite times of year. The guide features items polytheists would enjoy seeing in their homes or under their tree this yuletide. All with the hope of spreading some holiday cheer in a difficult year by finding items that can help feed our devotions within our polytheistic traditions, but also to hopefully along the way lift up some of the artisans in our midst too. So far I’ve included resources for crafters, makers, and DIYers: cookie cutters, crafting molds, fabric (MesoamericanEgyptianGreekNorthern Europe), machine embroidery designs, cross-stitch and embroidery patterns, as well as knitting and crochet patterns. I’ve also highlighted some items on a Krampus theme. I’ve spotlighted items you can use to deck the halls and trim the tree. 

There were some artists and artisans who offered a range of product across pantheons, or whose work focuses on a tradition that I didn’t have enough items to spotlight on it’s own. So I highly recommend that you carefully peruse the spotlighted artists and artisans in my miscellaneous Part 1, & Part 2. You will find offerings encompassing a vast array of traditions: Norse, Slavic, Celtic, Roman, Greek, Egyptian, Hindu, Polynesian, Mesoamerican, Minoan, Assyrian, Sumerian, Welsh, Asian, Native American/Inuit, and more!

Today I’ll be featuring items of interest for polytheists within Cultus Deorum (Roman Polytheism) and Hellenismos (Greek Polytheism).

ArxMercatura

ArxMercatura based in the Ukraine offers items for modern practitioners of Cultus Deorum with religious statues, libation bowls, shrines, Lares, clothes and more.


GoldenGlitterArt

GoldenGlitterArt offers a wide range of blinged out foil art prints, you’ll have to dig among all the offerings but there’s several Greek Gods and Goddesses offered (Hades, Poseidon, Athena, Artemis, Aphrodite, Hera, Hephaestus, and Demeter).


Greekies

SummitCollection offers Greekies, which are hand painted cold cast resin figures of Greek Gods and Goddesses. Artistically, these might be cute statues for a children’s altar.


Miscellaneous

Not all products in the links are depicted in the above image.

Additional resources: The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a mini replica of the Three Graces Statue  and a bust of Thalia. The British Museum has a range of Greek and Roman merchandise too. Be sure to peruse the previous entries in the Yuletide Shopping Guide as there is a range of items relevant to devotees worshipping under the Greco-Roman umbrella.

Yuletide Shopping Guide – Artists and Artisans Part 2

I created the Yuletide Shopping Guide in part because Yule is one of my favorite times of year. The guide features items polytheists would enjoy seeing in their homes or under their tree this yuletide. All with the hope of both spreading some holiday cheer in a difficult year, but also to hopefully lift up some of the artisans in our midst too. So far I’ve included resources for crafters, makers, and DIYers: cookie cutters, crafting molds, fabric (Mesoamerican, Egyptian, Greek, Northern Europe), machine embroidery designs, cross-stitch and embroidery patterns, as well as knitting and crochet patterns. I’ve also highlighted some items on a Krampus theme. I’ve spotlighted items you can use to deck the halls and trim the tree. Now I am spotlighting artists, artisans and the goods they make: Part 1, and Part 2 is today. Stay tuned, because there’s still more to come.


TrueCraftWorks

TrueCraftworks is run by a USA based leather-worker that offers in addition to jewelry and guitar straps, purses, boxes designed to hold cards (or if you wanted to runes), leather wallets/card holders, coasters and more.

Leather artisan goods from TrueCraftWorks

Emily Balivet

Emily Balivet is a talented artist whose brightly colored works encompass pagan and polytheistic themes ranging from tarot, to various Goddesses (Egyptian, Greek, Norse, Celtic, Hindu and more). Her shop features the prismatically vivid colors of both original paintings, and reproduction prints of her work.

Emily Balivet’s art depicting various deities.

KatLunoeArt

KatLunoeArt is the online shop for oil painter and illustrator Kat, whose work has graced book covers and other special projects. She currently has a small collection of various deity art available.  

Deity illustrations from KatLunoeArt

Anetteprs

Anetteprs is the etsy storefront for artist Anette Pirso. She focuses her artwork around various polytheistic traditions, including Gods and Goddesses (mainly Goddesses). Some of her artwork has been used in clothing designs offered at Valhyr. She has a large selection of both Norse and Greek Goddesses, and an expanding selection of other goddesses from around the world: African, Mesoamerican, Egyptian, Native American & Inuit, Slavic, Celtic, Asian, Polynesian, and Hindu. In addition to her artistic prints of these Goddesses, she also has a few artistic depictions of impactful women in history. She recently started offering waterproof stickers too (great for use on cars, water bottles, etc.). She has made the commitment that 5% of each purchase is donated to a The Estonian Women’s Shelters Union, which helps women who have been the victims of domestic violence.

Goddess illustrations by Anette Pirso

OlivosArtStudio

OlivosArtStudio is the online shop for painter Claudia Olivos whose depictions of Goddesses range from all over the globe: Egyptian, Greek, Hindu, Minoan, Norse, Mesoamerican (various traditions), Polynesian, and so much more.

Goddess illustrations from Claudia Olivos

SilvaTamayo

SilvaTamayo is the online storefront for paper artist Mary Carmen Silva Tamayo specializing in Mesoamerican and Mexican art, including depictions of Aztec deities.

Paper artwork creations from Mary Carmen Silva Tamayo

Yuletide Shopping Guide – Deck the Halls

After spotlighting resources for the DIYers, crafters and makers, and a highlighting themed goods for Krampus, I’m now moving onto decking the halls in the Yuletide Shopping Guide. The guide features items polytheists would enjoy seeing in their homes or under their tree this yuletide. All with the hope of both spreading some holiday cheer in a difficult year, but also to hopefully lift up some of the artisans in our midst too.

National Museum of Denmark

Years ago, my oath sister and I were able to visit the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen, and promptly cleaned out the gift shop. Seriously, that place is dangerous to the wallets of those with devotions in the Northern Tradition. With a wide variety of artifacts housed within the museum’s collection, there’s some really great replicas at hand: statuary, jewelry, scarves, and a range of other items. But for today we’re spotlighting items you can use to help trim your trees (I own a few myself!). You can navigate the site in English, and they will ship internationally.

Ornaments from the National Museum of Denmark

They have a variety of glass ornaments available: Variant 1 of the Gallehus Horns, Variant 2 of the Gallehus Horns, Gold Mjollnir, and Silver Mjollnir. In addition to the glass ornaments, they also have some fabric and sequins accented ornaments depicting the Gallehus Horns, and the Trundholm Sun Chariot.


Frigga’s Finery

Frigga’s Finery specializes in products for Northern Tradition polytheists including stockings, ornaments, table/altar cloths, wreaths, etc. In addition to holiday decor they also offer garb, ritual blot bowls, purses, drinking horns, and more. 


Sunwyn’s Sundries

Sunwyn’s Sundries offers a range of goods, but features several ornament stuffies of Huginn & Muninn, Krampus, Brigid’s Cross


Miscellaneous

Yuletide Shopping Guide – Knitting & Crochet Patterns

Makers, crafters and DIYers I have been spotlighting in my Yuletide Shopping Guide resources to help you create items related to polytheistic religious traditions. So far that has included cookie cutterscraft molds, and fabric related to MesoamericaAncient EgyptAncient Greece and Ancient Northern Europe. I’m shared machine embroidery design files, cross-stitch and embroidery patterns, and today I have knitting and crochet patterns (including amigurumi) to share.

Not all patterns below are depicted.

Please let me know if there are any errors, with all the copy/pasting it is easy to make a mistake. If there’s something you think I should spotlight in the yuletide shopping guide, please contact me and let me know. So concludes our fabric resources, but there will be more resources to come! Stay tuned.