Blog Archives

Happy Belated Father’s Day

A very happy belated Father’s Day! 

A blessing on all good Fathers today and every day. Fathers are the backbone, the protection, the support of a family and good fathers sacrifice so much to make sure their families prosper. When I think of a good model for a father in our cosmology, I think of Njord, the father of Freya and Freyr, and in my tradition, the foster-father of Sigyn (1). The enormous love that He has for His children, His willingness to do whatever He must to see that they are safe shines through in His every surviving story. What a wonderful support and strength, what a wonderful example to have at one’s back growing up. 

I think of Thor, Whose love for His children is ferocious and legendary, or Loki, Who is a loving Husband and Father (and the only one of our Norse Gods Who is also a Mother, having given birth to Sleipnir). Going back to Njord, we even have an example of a friendly, responsible divorce – His marriage to Skadhi did not last, but They remained allies and friends. In fact, it was Skadhi Who first noticed when Freyr became lovesick over Gerda. I think of His kindness in recognizing how miserable She was (She hated living in Noatun) and His generosity in helping Her return to Her home – He even tried to live there too, but it just didn’t work. That is a beautiful example of a loving man. 

On the Greco-Roman side of things, I think of the God Ares, who loved His daughter fiercely. When She was raped by the son of another God, Ares took vengeance for Her as a good father should, defended His decision before a court of the Gods, and won. Zeus too is a marvelous Father to His daughters Artemis and Athena, and to many of His sons as well. 

I could go on, but these will suffice. I’m not generally in favor of taking moral exempla from the stories of our Gods. That’s not what they were for, but in this case, I consciously make an exception. These exempla the Gods have provided us are important models of masculinity and fatherhood, models that are all too often sadly lacking in our world today. Lack of a good masculine role model is one of the number one factors in whether or not a child will be successful in life. We need good mothers, good fathers, and where, for whatever reason good or bad, one of those is lacking, role models of till the gap. This is what guarantees that our children will be healthy. We need cousins, uncles, aunties, grandpas, grandmas but none of that really takes the place of a father. Just as we honor our mothers and mother figures on Mother’s Day, I think it equally important that we honor our fathers and father figures on their day.

Feel free to share your stories about your dads or father figures here. By their presence or absence, we are formed, and it’s up to us what we do with that. 

Medieval images of Njord loosing the winds

There is a devotional to Njord available here

A New Blog to Pan

I just found out about a new blog devoted to Pan (and also to a degree Hermes and Artemis). I love seeing the Gods get more spaces through which They can seep and move and transform the world. Here is the blog in question for those of you who might be interested. 🙂

Hermes with Infant Bacchus

I saw this on twitter (courtesy of Astro Museum). It’s a medallion with Hermes (Mercury) holding the infant Bacchus. It’s electrotype by E. Hannaux, French. c. 1895-1905. I just love this image so much, the strength and tenderness in Hermes comes through so palpably.

Medallion with Hermes holding baby Bacchus

The Way We Speak

I’ve been sitting on this for a while. Around the autumnal equinox, I started to see gross postings in various places (tumblr, facebook, twitter, etc.) mostly about Persephone and Hades, putting in crude terms Her cyclical return to the Underworld. I don’t have cultus to either of those Deities but nonetheless, reading the trashy memes and comments really disturbed me. I think it says something about the paucity of our culture that we so blithely speak not just of sacred things, but of Holy Powers and Their mysteries with such casual disrespect (and I don’t think this is just a polytheistic problem either). Nor am I condemning all memes -– I’ve seen some that are lovely and some that are humorous without crossing the line into disrespect. I think that’s fine. I think that’s healthy and it’s really wonderful to see art and cartoons and prayers and imaginative renderings of our Gods. This is the way we develop iconography and build religious cultus and culture. It’s a good thing. It can be done without disrespect though. In fact, it can and should come from a place of love, adoration, and deep, deep devotion to the Holy Powers. That devotion is the core of every healthy tradition. 

Of course, there are some (usually Hellenics but occasionally Heathens will chime in too) who will argue that Homer wrote stories that presented the Gods in less than salutatory manner. Yeah, whoever (and it may be more than one author—but we’ll stick with “Homer” for convenience here) actually put together the Iliad and the Odyssey and other Homeric works did, but A) this corpus was criticized for that very potentially impious presentation by later philosophers; and B) there are also beautiful and deeply pious prayers and hymns within the Homeric corpus. I rarely see that latter coming from the same people who post garbage about the Gods. Often, I want to shake these individuals, and just flat out ask, “if you feel so deeply disgusted with our traditions, traditions you too claim to practice, if you want to erase all mystery and actual cultus, if you hate our Gods so very much why are you here?” I’d be very interested in the answer. When your entire blog or online world is devoted to tearing down and spitting on our traditions and the Holy Powers from which we received those traditions, why are you here? 

To put it bluntly, we should speak of our Gods with respect. That shouldn’t be a difficult or contentious thing. These are GODS. These are our Holy Powers. These are the Bestowers of mystery, the Givers of blessings, the Immortal Ones Whose will, and kindness crafted the worlds. These are the Powers from which our souls proceed and to which we will one day return. These are the Good and Gracious Gods from which all our blessings flow. When we speak of Them or render Them into art, we can do so with love and respect. If we have no respect for sacred things and for our Holy Powers and Their Mysteries, I ask again: WHY are we here?  

(I completely agree with the comment to this video that says, “This dude should mobilize and bring his healing slaps to the general public.” LOL. Please come to contemporary polytheisms. Please. We need those healing slaps. A lot of them. Repeatedly and with alacrity. Slap the hubris out of us. A-fucking-men). 

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.