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Interview with Ukrainian Freya’s woman Tove Freyjudottir — Part 1

This is the first part of a multi-part interview with Gyðja-in-training Tove Freyjudottir. Over the next few weeks, she will be sharing her thoughts and experiences watching her home city of Kharkiv, where she still has immediate family, being bombed.

This interview will be broken up into several parts, since it turned out to be quite long. I plan on posting a new installment every week or so until the interview is complete. For those who may have questions for Tove, or want to reach out she kindly gave me permission to share her email: elise33 at gmail.com. You may also follow her website here.

Firstly, I’d like to thank you, Tove for taking the time to answer my questions, especially at such a difficult time. I want to start by giving a little of your background for my readers. Tove is a long-time Heathen devoted to Freyja, and she also honors Dionysos and His Bacchic retinue. She has a degree in political science from Adelphi University, speaks three languages (nearly four – I’ve heard her manage in Italian in addition to English, Russian, and Ukrainian), and is currently studying for ordination. She was born and raised in Kharkiv, Ukraine leaving in 1989 when she was twelve. She has returned several times and the soul of her land Ukraine is knit into her very bones.

GK: Tove, I know that you grew up in Ukraine when it was still part of Soviet Russia. What was it like growing up under Soviet control? How did your family decide to come to the US?

The one thing that I remember the most that I think everyone living under that regime remembers is the silence. I find that the hardest thing that people in democratic countries have understanding about communism, and a dictatorship like USSR is the lack of free speech and a horrific lack of information. I remember when I was about 7, a chapter from a book written by Victor Hugo, on a little girl called Cossette, was turned into a small pamphlet for little kids. We read it as a short story about a little girl, terribly poor, neglected and cold, dragging an enormous barrel of water to a tavern where she was treated worse than a dog, until a stranger appeared at the hotel and performed the most miraculous of rescues, not only saving this child but providing her with a protector. Deeply affected by the beauty of the story, I learned that the book was “Les Miserables”, but not matter how much I wanted to read it, not only could we not find it, my parents told me not to ask anyone about it. (Eventually, many years later, a friend of our family proudly gifted me a copy). It simply did not exist. Most things didn’t. There was no way to acquire any information, especially at the time before the onset of internet. I think that people in a society that has free speech laws have a hard time conceptualizing a country where there is only one dialogue being taught since birth, and no alternate dialogue is allowed to exist.

GK: I remember in 1989 doing a semester in Vilinius –when Lithuania was still under the Soviet boot. The book “Children of the Arbat” had just come out but was banned in the USSR. A Lithuanian teacher asked me what I’d most like to read and I mentioned it and she turned pale and shushed me. Of course, then she looked around to make sure no one was watching and opened her desk drawer and gave me a copy of the book! She was risking, I later realized, more than just her job.

Many books were banned, for example any novel by Michael Bulgakov, one of the most prolific authors of the 20th century in USSR. A banned book didn’t simply mean you couldn’t find it in the local library. It meant having possession of it could be 15 years in prison. 15 years was the maximum term in prison, but most people didn’t survive past 2. If you did, there was likely something wrong with you, and that level of sociopathy was probably not someone we would want out on the streets anyway.

The court of law was not a place of justice. In a system where both the attorney representing the defendant, the prosecutor, and the judge answer to the same authority doesn’t give much of a defense to the accused. The verdicts were usually decided before the onset of the trial, and most people tended to believe that if you were being tried, it was because you were guilty, so the cases were decided pretty quickly. When I look at the developments in Russia in the last few weeks I am having an incredible de ja vu. Nothing is as it seems, and nothing is done for the reasons that are announced. If a person is being tried for corruption and theft he likely just pissed off his fellow co-conspirator, who is a person of legitimacy. The most frustrating thing about talking to people who have always lived in a democratic system is that they fundamentally take at face value what people from such countries say. American politicians do have a tendency to have talking points, but the difference is, they are still held accountable for those talking points. In USSR, no one was ever held accountable for them and should anyone mention such an idea, you would be reprimanded the first time (if you were lucky), and disappear the second time. This means, lies are bold and told with impunity. There is no legitimacy to anything anyone says if they can’t be held accountable for it.

GK: I can tell you just from the young people that I teach, that most have no concept of what it was like, and how tightly controlled people’s thought-worlds were.

The KGB was very involved in the regular life of the people. Knowing that they would be mistrusted, they often would recruit regular people with regular jobs. This was an old and familiar method: they would call someone into their office and present him with some kind of a provocation. A person was forced to become a “reporter” via blackmail.

These people would then report when they would hear anyone speak or act in a subversive way. This didn’t have to be anything grand, someone could simply show distrust in a political speech, or say that they don’t like a new state policy. Any dissent no matter how mundane and small, could get someone to be called into the KGB headquarters. We once knew someone who was arrested for selling pair of jeans.

GK: Why jeans? What was the issue there?

It was considered a distinctly Western expression of freedom and anything Western, anything from a capitalist i.e. free society was viewed with disdain. People would ask: where did you get the jeans and since the society was locked, chances were you had bought them illegally. If you were caught selling jeans, you could be convicted. People would go to Eastern European countries – East Germany, Bulgaria, etc. buy goods and sell them back in the USSR. This was illegal and punishable by years in prison but people did it anyway.

GK: That sounds horrific, and a level of social paranoia I can’t quite fathom.

People disappeared very easily, and this turned the society into a society of snitches. Your next-door neighbor, your teacher, your distant cousin could “belong” to the KGB. People would sometimes also use this to get a leg up. For example, during the Stalinist era, in 1940s’, my great uncle, who was a major and operated a prison, was one day taken out of his apartment in the middle of the night. My great aunt described that in the dead of night, as they were asleep, they received a knock on the door. Agents came in and dragged him out of the house without even giving him a chance to put on street clothes. She screamed and cried, and her children still remember her running down the street in her nightgown crying and begging them to return her husband. She never heard from him again, but another man, who reported him, took over his job.

Because of this report, they [the KGB] confiscated what property they had, including moving her out of her apartment. I am not sure if she was separated from her children, as that was common practice then, but this was before I was born and that part of the story didn’t survive to me.

Twenty years later, after the death of Stalin, she received a notice that apologized for the execution of her husband. No other reparations were made besides the letter.

I grew up in a Jewish family. Being Jewish in USSR was a terrible thing to be.
Our passports, which showed a person’s nationality, were stamped with either, Russian, Ukrainian or Jewish. Whether you were Jewish or not, it’s not something you wanted to have in your passport. It meant you would not be accepted or allowed to enter a university or be promoted to any position. For example, we had a relative who was a captain who worked up north in the area of Siberia. When he asked for a justified promotion, his supervisor said, “A Jew can’t be a major! That will never happen!”

If anything happened in the area, if investigators were looking for any kind of criminal activity, Jews would be automatically on the list first. They were viewed with suspicion; it was believed that fundamentally, Jewish people would betray the state first. For this reason, and because due to a clerical error made during the liberation of the concentration camps my grandfather was able to get a passport that marked him as Ukrainian, I also held the nationality of Ukrainian. Due to this, my parents chose not to tell me that we were Jews (I became Heathen in my thirties) until I was about 10. They told me they were afraid that being a little girl, I would tell someone.

GK: my father always told me that being religious of any sort could be problematic – as in ending up in a labor camp “problematic”!

Religion was officially treated with disdain, but unofficially regarded as an enemy organization. Anyone entering a church , was put on a list. Mind you, I say a church because there were no synagogues in my city. The last one that was there before I was ever born was forcibly turned into a gymnasium. There were always KGB agents hiding in plain clothing, and they would note people who strayed from the proper behavior. I had not been inside a religious institution or even understood religion until well after I left Soviet Union.

GK: I know – the lack of a religious upbringing has led to interesting lacunae in our work together. On the upside, you had nothing to unlearn in terms of religious behavior! It never occurred to me how absent religion had been in your childhood until I mentioned it to you once and we had a conversation about how the antipathy the USSR in general and communism in particular had/has toward religion had shaped your youth.

The Soviet Union always stressed science and exploration being juxtaposed against religion. They really pushed the (false) idea that if you were intelligent, you’d understand religion was backward and that it stifled thought. That’s really how they portrayed it everywhere.

GK: What do you think about religion now?

I think it’s not religion that forces people not to think logically or curbs intelligence and exploration; I think that’s a position that humans take and they can use religion or a number of other things to do it. The reasons Soviet Union specifically denigrated religion is because it was deeply intertwined with Tsarist Russia, and they wanted to weed out any semblance of hereditary rule in Russia. The fact they did it even as late as the 1980s and that there are still monarchists alive in Russia today indicates that from a purely power perspective, there was a connection between Orthodoxy and Monarchy and a deep understanding before the revolution that the Tsar was appointed to rule over Russia by God. There was a peaceful demonstration in Russia long before the 1917 communist revolution. In 1905, when the people marched on the Square and peacefully implored their Tsar for help, they referred to him as their “Father”. To them, he was the father appointed by God to watch over them. That connection was so deep that it was a central tenet of the Soviet Union to consistently attempt to break and eradicate it.

GK: How do you feel today, knowing that native polytheism in Russia, Ukraine, pretty much in all the former “republics” is growing? So is Heathenry if the number of emails I get is any indication.

I absolutely love this development. I find it particularly fascinating how the Russian Orthodox church juxtaposes itself against contemporary Polytheistic developments.

GK: I know that in Russia, Ukraine, and I believe Bulgaria, there have been multiple vandalisms of polytheistic sacred spaces, sadly, by Orthodox—they left crosses and icons after destroying the god-poles and other sacred items– and in Lithuania, just this past year, the Catholic Church intervened to prevent Romuva from receiving state recognition.

This lack of tolerance on the part of the Christian traditions in the Baltic and Slavic lands, I believe goes to the issues of legitimacy. There are particular historical turning points that happened here and those again go back to Ukraine: namely how Russian was written down and how it became a language. How it evolved out of Ukrainian and the place that Greek and Christian Orthodoxy played in that. There were two Greek priests who decided to transcribe Ukrainian and this new language became intertwined with authoritarianism and the Church and Christianity attempted to bind itself to those countries to the exclusion of all other faiths. The question of these faiths may in the end be a question of who has the right to pray over those lands.

GK: Yep. Cyril and Methodius were sent on a mission to Christianize the Rus by the Byzantine Emperor in the 9th century. The language they systematized became Church Slavonic – and I’m really simplifying that whole process here. What is clear though if one reads Ukrainian and Russian is that Russian is much, much more polished. Linguistically, and to a stunning degree, it obviously came from Ukrainian and passed through the mediating “hands” of the Church.

If we look at Russian politics today, specifically the case of Navalny, his biggest criticism of the Putinist regime was his attempt to legitimize his dictatorship through the Russian Orthodox Church. The movie https://www.thedailybeast.com/alexei-navalny-video-details-dollar13b-mansion-on-black-sea-said-to-be-vladimir-putins-secret-russia-estate that got him imprisoned affected the Russian people with such anger towards Putin because it showed explicitly how Putin is attempting to usurp a throne to which he has no licit right.

The question I would like answered is, how was rulership determined prior to the onset of Christianity?

GK: I don’t know. I’ve read the Primary Chronicle but I don’t think that can be taken as an unbiased account.

It is clear however that religion in these lands fights to claim political legitimacy and binds itself to governance. What’s troubling is that then Christianity will claim sole right to the land. It has in the past and it doesn’t want to give that power up. Look at what’s happening in Poland with the Catholic Church – they’re demonstrating and are still trying to free themselves from a government intertwined with Catholicism. The problem there is that the Catholic Church basically decides what happens next on every political level. It was the same in Russia with the Orthodox Church. Ukraine has its own autonomous orthodox Church (which really pissed Moscow off) and a Jewish President. Ukraine has no issues electing a Jewish president in a Ukrainian Orthodox society. I’m not sure the same could be said of a non-Catholic in Poland and I know it wouldn’t happen in Russia and when you think about it, that’s really troubling. It’s clearly not an issue of Orthodoxy itself – many Ukrainians are Orthodox—it’s the use and abuse of power. That’s really what it is and polytheism is incredibly threatening to the power the Church carries. It is their goal to bind religion to the land and to government making Christianity a requirement.

GK: for those unfamiliar with the develop of Ukrainian Orthodoxy, I recommend Fordham’s “Public Orthodoxy” site — an online journal that has lots of articles explaining why this is so controversial with Moscow and how Orthodox autonomy works.

Religion is difficult because we often use it to govern our ethical values (GK: that was not necessarily the case with polytheism, where ethics came from philosophy and or community nomoi. That’s very much a monotheistic thing). How do you argue against the only legitimate religion telling you to vote for a politician?

GK: we haven’t figured that one out either, not fully. Religion is always a problem when it intersects with government. Media can be a tricky player there too. What was that like when you were growing up?

There were no protests. There were no speeches. We only had 5 newspapers that all reported the same news, and 3 channels on the TV. At 9 o’clock in the evening, all 3 channels showed the same news. The news had nothing to say except “the harvest was good this year”. In fact, this phrase was repeated every single night in different ways, no matter how there was no bread in bakeries, and no produce or meat in the stores. They had to report, no matter what the reality was, that they have exceeded their 5-year plan. If any other statement was made, there would be a prison term. It was understood that there was always over performance.

In reality, it would have been impossible that anything but horrendous underperformance would be pandemic at the collective farms. In order to keep the farms operating, the government instituted a law that only those people who had a propiska could remain in a given city. This means, they had an official piece of paper that showed they were listed on the apartment they were residing in. There was once a very sad incident in my neighborhood where a father and a son lived in the same apartment for decades. To “get” an apartment was very difficult because you would had to be put on a list for an apartment, and usually the wait was about 20-30 years. You could not be put on the list unless you already lived in the city. His father didn’t bother putting the son’s name as a resident, and died suddenly and prematurely. Since the son was not signed into the apartment, the building, of course for a “price” immediately gave his apartment to someone else and he had to leave the city limits right away. My father said that he heard that he was traveling through the deepest of the Siberian lands.

This was done in part to ensure production at the collective farms. Anyone that was born at a collective farm or for whatever reason ended up there had their passport removed immediately. They were not “signed into” any city, and so could not be located (live) anywhere else but the collective farm they were on. The only way to leave would be to enlist into the military, so all the young people enlisted, and then entered universities and never came back. In three decades only old people remained at the farms.

GK: how is that not serfdom? (A type of slavery, deeply embedded in Russian culture, that emerged in the 16th century. Serfs were bound to the land, to specific noblemen, could be sold, and were considered property).

It’s exactly serfdom. It’s actually worse. There’s a faceless quality to a state doing this versus a feudal lord. The feudal lords were at least to some degree responsible for the land, and wanted to see it prosper. When a faceless far-away government body forces people to work the land but removes any right they have to it, it becomes a hopeless life bereft of drive or meaning.

Living on the farm was one of the worst things that could ever occur to a person. You had no passport and no right to leave. You were not paid with money for any work you did, but only in small token amount of food that you grew, barely enough to keep yourself fed. Ownership was forbidden, so you did not own anything, not even your labor. Farm life is hard physical labor, and you owned none of it, not the land, not the grain, not the livestock. You couldn’t even partake of what you produced, only what was partitioned to you. People on the farms lived the way people lived before the onset of electricity. They often didn’t have heat.

GK: something those so enamored of socialism and communism here in this country might want to consider, hard work not being their métier sarcasm. Did your family live on a collective farm?

We lived in a city, one of the largest in Ukraine. It was famous for its metallurgical factories that produced military grade parts. My grandfather would wake up at 2:30 in the morning, so that he could take his large thermos, and go down the street to take up his place in line for milk. The milk cistern would arrive at 6:30 am, and you got there too late, all the milk would be gone but the time the line got to you. Many left without any milk.

GK: Were there any positives?

The education was excellent, much better than it is here, because a lot was expected from the students, not just in terms of regular subjects but in terms of behavior. There were little sayings that kids could remember, that reminded us of all sorts of behavior that the government would want us to emulate. They were such as “respect must be given to the older ones, concessions must be given to the younger ones”. It was common societal practice, for example, that a younger person sitting on a train or a bus would immediately offer their seat if an older person would walk in. Of course, we were kids, so we would make fun of these, for example, we would tell the older kids “we respect you, now concede your seat!”

GK: LOL. I like that though, the respect for one’s elders, respect for education. I remember once you showed me the school grading books that students carried with then to school called “dnevnik” (a daily) that were used when you were a student and there was a whole list of conduct rules at the beginning. I was quite impressed. As a teacher I can’t help but think, “if only.” (We took a break while doing this interview while I made coffee. While doing that, I set out alcoholic offerings for our household spirits, which led to our conversation segueing to drinking).

Alcoholism was widespread. People often died from what was called “white shakes”, (in the US we call it ‘delirium tremens’) an extreme version of alcohol poisoning that occurs if you have been binge drinking for days non-stop. So many adults were alcoholics that children seemed uncared for. Most industries didn’t function well and to have anything that functioned you would need to bribe someone. Bribes weren’t just widespread, they were the only way to conduct business or survive, they were the tax of the communist world. No industry thrived. Nothing ever worked. Everything was old and dilapidated and no matter how many “5 year plans” people made, no one actually cared unless they could get in trouble. My father worked at a metallurgical factory, that had over 2,000 employees. He once said that out of 2,000 only two didn’t drink; one had an ulcer and the other had a heart condition. Although my dad had an engineering degree, he decided to work as a worker at the factory, because under communism a worker would be paid more than the supervisor, so there was no reason to become the supervisor. There were often signs at businesses that said “perekur”, smoking break. The sign often remained for most of the day. The joke was, you started drinking when you got to work, and didn’t stop until it was time to go home. My dad once said that there was a large spinning slicer in the factory, and that at least once a day someone fell into it because they were drunk.

Because in part of how industry functioned, and in part because no one had any parts to produce anything anyway, the goods were virtually non-existent or awful. There was only 2 or 3 types of dresses. They were not cut to accentuate anything or make anyone feel good about themselves, they all looked the same and meant to make you feel a part of the collective. A few decades ago there was an exhibition of Soviet Era undergarments, I believe in France, and the shape of underwear itself was something to behold. I sometimes wonder if they purposely tried making clothing look so awful. There was a running joke at the time, that there was a left shoe factory and a right shoe factory. The left shoe factory broke, so they just put two right shoes for retail. This referred to the fact that there was literally, only one prototype of a shoe. This below is an excellent article on the state of clothing during USSR complete with pictures.

GK: Omg. Readers, just go to the link…look at what passed for underwear. Omg.

It’s important to understand, that this wasn’t just about some underwear or a pair of jeans. USSR robbed people of their dignity, individuality, and any sense of beauty. They banked on the idea that if they have no information coming into the Soviet Union, then no one would know. But this ultimately underestimated the human nature. Human nature needs beauty, and eloquence to thrive. It needs a place to speak its voice loud and clear, its own individual voice. It needs self-respect and a cultivation of passions to stimulate creation. In a word, people knew what they were missing and wanted it that much more.

GK: I’m going to bold your statement about dignity. That is, I think, at the heart of what makes communism and socialism, or any dictatorship so terrible.

If I could pick one word to describe the Soviet life, it was “lies”. The state lied to us about history, productivity, beauty, the future and the state of our nation. In return, we had to keep quiet about our views, our interests, and our thoughts. We had to lie about what we produced and how much, what we wanted and what we were doing with our lives. No shift from the typical mentality was allowed.

This is a faint memory for me, but a much more central for my parents. I recently watched the now undercover media outlet in Russia on YouTube (which Putin is preparing to ban soon), where the newscaster interviewed a correspondent in Kyiv, who was there for a limited time but now ended up being stuck there during the war (“war”: a word that is now punishable in Russia with a 15 year term). She said how strange it was, being around people who said what they wanted. She said that after being in Kyiv for a few weeks, she started doing it as well. She said, how easy it is, to get used to this concept, free speech. How quickly she adopted to that.

In the 80’s, when I was a little girl, was a time of amazing reforms. For the first time singers would sing about the utter sadness and the doom of that life. They would sing about the lack of freedoms, the forced ugliness, the lack of artistic freedom. No one still dared to protest.

When we finally arrive in Italy in 1989, my father told me a story. He said that there was once a director from Soviet Union who came on a tour to Rome. He saw as the twilight was descending people laughing and walking down the street in masks, dressed in beautiful clothes. He asked the concierge what was the holiday that they were celebrating. The answer was, there was no holiday, this was just how people were here. He defected from the Soviet Union the next day.

GK: I don’t blame him. How did your family decide to leave?

It was my mother that was the impetus for us to leave USSR. She said to me once that she would have done it in the 70’s, but I was born in 76, and she didn’t think it would be safe to travel with an infant. The border got closed in 78’ and didn’t reopen until 1989. She said, she didn’t want me to live that way, always looking over my shoulder. She felt that to live in USSR meant I would have no future. She was right. What reward is there in a country that doesn’t value achievement? That deleted the truth and silences the people instead of addresses its problems? The kind of system that has no checks and balances to it? The kind that deals with issues by pretending they don’t exist and sends anyone who voices opinions on those issues to a prison cell?

Everyone wanted to leave. A million people immediately packed what they could take with them and left. In 1989, when the border opened, a million people left immediately and the number was so large, that it took almost a year for US embassy to process us all. If you need to know whether something is bad, the best indicator is, how many people from all walks of life are running away from it. When a million people leave at once, that is the best indicator you can get.

GK: Readers, this concludes the end of part I. We have at least two, maybe three more parts to come (Depending on how I decide to break up the interview. I’ve been transcribing it little by little). Please feel free to contact Tove if you have any questions. She kindly allowed for this and I give her email above. I’m hoping to have part II next week. Until then, be well.

art by Oleksiy Shekshuuev

Pod-Cast interview with Weiser Books

I had a wonderful pod-cast interview go live today. One June 4th I was interviewed by Weiser Books Radio Hour about my current and forthcoming work. It was one of the most enjoyable interviews I”ve had the pleasure of doing too. The host, Mike Conlon really did his homework.

I haven’t listened to the finished version, but we were chatting away for about an hour. Interested readers can listen to the whole thing here

I was recently interviewed for ‘Eternal Haunted Summer” e-zine.

I was recently interviewed by Rebecca Buchanan for Eternal Haunted Summer about my Rune book, which was just released, and my forthcoming “Modern Guide to Heathenry,” which is available for pre-order. 

The interview is available here

 

 

interview with Around Grandfather Fire

In last month’s newsletter, I posted about my recent interview with Sarenth and Jim on their podcast Around Grandfather Fire, but I don’t believe I mentioned it here. I gave a fairly long interview and had a great time. They asked some deeply insightful questions and I think the convo is worth a listen, which you, my readers, may do here. They have a whole index of interviews that you can listen to on various topics of interest to our traditions .

A Recent Interview that I Gave

I was recently interviewed by a student for her World Religions class. They had an assignment to interview a devout person and she got permission to interview a polytheist. I received permission from her to share the interview here, though I’m protecting her name (I don’t want to see her getting harassed, which has happened before to people that I’ve interviewed), for privacy’s sake, and by request. 

Interview with A.R.: Lived Polytheism

A, These are good questions. A couple of things to keep in mind with my answers: I’m not a lay person. I’m a priest and spirit worker and have been since 1994. I’ve spent the better part of three decades doing increasingly complex theological work within my communities so the answers that I give should not be taken as indicative of your average lay woman. That being said, you’ve asked some really thoughtful questions here.

  1. What was the religious background of your childhood?

I was raised Roman Catholic. I left the church at twelve, refusing to be confirmed and over the next few years slowly became consciously polytheistic. I’m actually quite grateful for the Catholic upbringing. I think that I was very lucky. I had good devotional models, since my grandmother, for instance, was very devout. I never had to question the goodness of devotional work or the role that devotion could and should play in one’s life. I had it modeled for me from a very early age. I also found, as I was going through my conversion process, that the writings of female Catholic mystics like Mechthild of Magdeburg, Julian of Norwich, and the like were extremely inspiring. It was almost as though we were having a conversation across the centuries and across the boundaries of our respective traditions. At the time that I converted, there was really no one available to provide spiritual direction in my community so I turned to these women in a way for that.

  1. I know that honoring one’s ancestors is extremely important in Heathenry. What kind of meaning does the practice have for you?

I think that honoring one’s ancestors is one of the most fundamental practices a polytheist can have. From our point of view, it’s what a responsible, engaged adult does as a matter of course. There’s a Lithuanian proverb ‘the spirits of the dead are the protection of the living’ and a Lukumi proverb “we stand on the shoulders of our ancestors” and I absolutely believe that is true. Honoring the dead roots us deeply in an awareness that we are living links in a chain of hopes, dreams, and devotion stretching back into history and forward into the future. It helps us establish right relationship spiritually too, because if we can get it right with our dead, then it’s that much easier to do so with our Gods. Connecting to our own ancestors though (and those who are not related by blood but to whom we have powerful connections of heart, mind, and spirit) strengthens us. It’s like a tree with rich, thick roots. It is a sustaining force and I very much believe that the ancestors can and do look after us, respond to us, and watch over us, helping where they can.

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Halloween pumpkins

  1. You’ve talked a lot about your personal relationships with the Gods. In my experience with conventional Heathenry, it is considered a “beginner’s mistake” to seek a personal relationship with the Gods. How do you feel about that? What level of importance do you prescribe to ancestor worship in relation to worship of the Gods?

Any Heathen who says that developing a personal relationship with the Gods is a “beginner’s mistake” is a fool who should be ashamed of himself.  Monotheism already destroyed our traditions once, why on earth would we finish the job for them by abrogating devotion? There is nothing more important in one’s religious life than developing that personal devotional relationship. It’s a sad fact that the majority of modern Heathens (and you might want to define Heathen for your paper so that people know it’s a term of religious identity for those who venerate the Norse and Germanic Gods. There are multiple denominations and “Heathen” or “Heathenry” is rather an umbrella term) come from fundamentalist protestantisms and I often find that they have a very difficult time accepting the emotional messiness of devotional work. I also find a deplorable tendency to try to reify the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda as authoritative texts, in the same way the Bible is for Christianity even though our traditions are not and never have been religions of any book. This is one of the fault lines within our community and where one falls on this topic is one of the things that can determine one’s denomination, so to speak.

  1. The concept of frith seems to run counter to the American spirit, namely individualism. How important is frith to you, and how do you navigate the space between Heathen tribalism and the American ethos?

Well, ‘frith’ is often translated as ‘peace,’ but I think a more accurate translation is ‘right order.’ Part of restoring our polytheisms is also re-ordering and re-prioritizing our sense of ethics and civic awareness and that is occasionally in conflict with the American norm. For me, that’s never been a problem. I will always prioritize my religious obligations over anything else, be it Heathen tribalism or an American ethos. Piety becomes the lens through which every part of one’s life is filtered and the only identity that really matters.

mani at night

  1. How do you navigate conflicting claims by the different traditions you serve? For instance, cosmological inconsistencies?

Well if there are conflicts between what I ought to do for particular Deities, or what offerings to give, or which set of Deities needs to be honored first, I can always go to divination. Polytheisms always have been – in the past as in the modern day—religions of diviners. Divination is a precious, precious gift by which we are able to directly suss out what is required of us to remain in right relationship with our Gods. It’s also very useful, working in a blended tradition as I do (i.e. Norse and Greco-Roman) for handling any such conflicts of praxis. In the end, I belong to Odin, so when it comes down to it, He has pride of place in my devotional life. Anything else is sorted via divination. As to differing cosmological issues, inconsistencies…it’s not really an issue. One of the lovely graces of polytheism is the ability to hold many different stories, realities, beliefs as true all at once. It’s not, after all, as though one is reading a book on higher math, where an inconsistency in an equation will cause one’s work to fall apart. The inconsistences in cosmological stories (sometimes even within the canon of stories for the same God – regional cultus gave rise to many variations of stories for instance) often point to powerful Mysteries of that particular Deity or pantheon. They’re points to be savored. But they don’t cause any particular cognitive dissonance because we don’t demand ideological unity. They just provide mores ways of engaging with our Gods.

feb-25-2017-hermes-shrine-new

  1. Coming from a reconstructionist religion with little in the way of infrastructure, how do you connect with other Heathens and develop a sense of community? As a gythia, do you feel like you have a special role in your community?

There’s a vibrant online community. We network via social media, and use platforms like skype and slackchat to maintain groups where members might be spread out. There’s email, and then of course there are festivals and conferences and holy days where we’ll travel to celebrate together. As a gythia (priest), my job is to serve the Gods and to do whatever I can in my work, both online and in person within my religious community to help people venerate the Gods more deeply, as deeply as possible. I’m a ritual specialist, and I’ll provide spiritual direction but my focus is always on serving the Gods. What that entails at any given moment may differ dramatically from day to day. Many of us also run kindreds or houses where we do have small, regular congregations.  

  1. Have you ever experienced doubts about your tradition, beliefs, or religious practices? If so, how did you cope?

Not really. No more than any other person in their devotional life. I struggle often with what the Gods ask of me, but I’ve never doubted Their existence or the rightness of being in devotional relationship with Them. I’ve had fallow times where I couldn’t sense Their presence strongly – a ‘dark night of the soul,’ to quote St. John of the Cross, if you will, and I’ve been intensely angry at Them (after the death of my mother for instance) but that’s all normal ups and downs in a devotional life. I do have periods where I wonder if anything that we do will make any difference in our traditions, if we’ll ever be able to adequately restore our traditions to the strength and potency that they had before Christianity destroyed them, but the cure for that is prayer and turning to the Gods, not running away. Doubt has never been my problem. I’ve experienced Them directly at times, too much so for me to ever doubt. Despair however is something I do occasionally fight.

  1. I’ve noticed that there’s a controversy surrounding Jötunn worship. Why do you choose to worship the Jötnar?

It is right and proper to honor all our Holy Powers, not just the ones with Whom we are comfortable. Also, one of my earliest and most supportive devotional relationships was with the God Loki. For thirty years He has sustained me and every good thing in my life, every precious and blessed thing has in some way come through His hands. I would never, ever repudiate Him to make anyone in the community comfortable. I think the discomfort with Loki and other Jotnar has to do again with the fact that so many Heathens converted from Christianity- specifically Protestant Christianity. (There’s a wonderful book called “Love the Sin” by Janet Jakobson and Ann Pellegrini that talks about the religious character of America and that American secularism is really a particular type of Protestant Christianity. Our dominant mode of religion in the US is very deeply influenced by Protestant Christianity and that doesn’t stop just because one converts). I think they are looking for a devil. Norse cosmology at its core involves a fundamental interplay of opposing forces. It’s not good and evil. It’s chaos and order, ice and fire with no moral shading on that at all. For people raised in Christianity that’s difficult, often quite difficult. But, part of becoming a polytheist means dealing with our bullshit and not bringing unresolved baggage from our birth religions with us. We have an obligation to our Gods and to ourselves to do better. There’s ample evidence that Loki was in no way demonized amongst our polytheistic ancestors, but was instead a vital part of the pantheon. When we refuse to venerate these Gods, because they make us uncomfortable, we destroy our traditions again, just like that generation of Christians that tore down temples and demanded conversion. Why on earth should we do the work of our opponents for them?

  1. How do you feel about theologies like Vodou or Hinduism in which the Gods exist but are subordinate to or immanent within a higher being?

Forgive me for being quite so blunt, but I think that’s a very [white] western perspective of Hinduism at least. Many, many Hindus are purely polytheistic. It’s actually one of the fault lines within Hinduism today and the idea that they are in reality monotheists evolved out a desire to basically pander to western modernists. I’d recommend the work of Drs. Vishwa Adluri, Joydeep Bagchee, and Edward Butler on this topic, since it is more than a bit out of my area of expertise. As to Vodou, I think it important to look at how the African Diasporic religions developed in relation to slavery and the need to conceal practices behind a façade of Christianity.

In the end, what a Hindu does though or a Voudousaint matters little to my own practice. I don’t practice Hinduism, though I will pay homage to the Hindu Gods should I ever be in a position to visit a temple or a devout Hindu home. I don’t practice Voudou though I have in the past paid homage to the Lwa, given that I have practicing colleagues. There are very devout people working within those communities ensuring survival and continuity of practice. I am concerned with doing the same for my own.

I do want to point out that with these traditions, the question of whether or not they have a higher Being holding sway over all the other Deities and Powers is effectively moot. Last week, September 2017 I learned that a practitioner not of Voudou but of Candomble had been butchered by evangelical Christians because he refused to desecrate his shrines. There has been a spate of violence in Brazil: Christians forcing Candomble practitioners at gunpoint to desecrate their holy places in the name of Christ. A few months ago I read an article about the desecration of a Hindu temple by Muslims in India. Last year, a young Syrian girl was gang-raped and then stoned to death by her brother and a group of his male friends because he discovered she was a polytheist. In the end, when people are still suffering and dying for their Gods I think it more important to ally with extant polytheisms, however they conceive of that polytheism than to damn them.

Polytheists in the US are lucky. We may occasionally experience discrimination (I’ve had my office vandalized once, for instance, bibles left all over, the walls marked up with bible verses), but with rare exceptions we can go home to our families at night without worrying that we’re going to be forced to choose between our lives and our faith, or between the lives of our children and our Gods. That’s not the case everywhere in the world (think of the ongoing genocide of the Yezidi for instance) and I think it’s important to remember that. Polytheism remains under attack. For us in the US, it’s ideological – we’ll fight for space online and in person to practice umolested – but in other countries, it can very much become a matter of life and death.

hindu-temples

(Hindu shrine statue having been smashed by Muslims — not an uncommon occurrence in today’s India)

10. Do you think it’s important for polytheists who were raised Christian to share their beliefs with their family? Or, is it okay to go through the motions in order to retain familial relationships?

I think that is a question every polytheist has to answer for him or herself. Given, for instance, that polytheism or Paganism can become an issue in divorce court where custody is concerned some people may truly not be safe in being out. I personally think we owe it to our Gods not to hide our faith. If we hide and skulk around it sends the unconscious message that we’re doing something wrong and we are not. Moreover, we shouldn’t have to hide. I made it a point to be completely open about my polytheism from a very early period in my religious life. I never dumbed it down for family and that meant that I severed relationships with certain family members. I’m ok with that. That was a choice I made a long time ago. But this is a complicated question and there’s no easy answer for everyone.

There are people who may be extremely devout but whose personal circumstances are such that they cannot safely be open. The general rule of thumb I suggest is to be open as much as you can, when you can. When you absolutely can’t, do your best and try to change the circumstances that prevent it. I don’t think the Gods love someone any less because they are unable to be open about their faith. I think it’s a terrifying thing, especially if one comes from a very devout non-polytheistic family. Some people worry about their safety. Some people worry about losing the roof over their heads. Some people worry about losing their children. Some people worry about losing every one they love. I personally could never go through the motions though. I would feel as though I was betraying the Gods I love beyond breath.

11. Are the Gods physical? How is it that Odin can lose his eye and Baldur can die?

I think the Gods can take physical form but the question of Odin’s eye and Baldur’s death are mysteries and their understanding and import are so deeply entwined with the cosmology itself that it goes well beyond the question of whether or not a God can take physical form. I don’t think that human corporeality is the be all and end all of experience. The Gods existed before us, brought materiality and temporality into being, but are not Themselves necessarily constrained by it. (I recommend my article here: https://krasskova.wordpress.com/2016/07/27/in-the-beginning/). I think the question is not whether the Gods are physical but what does it mean for us that They can take physical form? What does it mean for us that Odin lost an eye and that Baldur died? What does that tell us about Their nature? What does that tell us about how They can relate to and interact with the world itself. It’s never about the apparent physicality or lack thereof of the Gods. It’s about everything else.

12. How do you account for the different pantheons? Why wouldn’t all Gods manifest to all peoples?

I believe in all the different pantheons but I am not called to venerate Them all. Why do we have different languages? Why do we have different cuisines and cultures? I think that the different groups of Gods developed covenants and contracts and very special relationships with Their respective peoples and that is a good thing. It mirrors the diversity found in our world, the glorious explosion of a thousand different ways of being. Unity is not the highest virtue for us. It rather betrays a remarkable lack of vision. Why wouldn’t different Gods manifest to and contract with different people? Even within the Hebrew bible we see this. YHWH was the God of the Hebrew tribes. He was their God as opposed to the Gods of other tribes and peoples. His covenant was with the Jewish people, not with the Akkadians or Egyptians, etc. Why would it not be so?

13. As a follow-up, are there any Gods or pantheons you don’t believe in, and why?

Nope. It’s funny. When many people discover I’m a polytheist they’ll often look confused for a long moment and then inevitably the first question I’m often asked next is “but…but you believe in Jesus right?” well, yes, but He’s not my Deity. I don’t venerate Him. I belong to other Gods. But I believe in Them all.

dawn_1

14. What do you believe will happen to you in the afterlife? Do you follow the model of the soul with many parts?

I do follow the multi-part soul model. As to the afterlife, I believe I will be reunited with my ancestors and then hopefully with Odin where I will continue to serve Him in whatever capacity He deems necessary. I hope I don’t have to reincarnate. I’m tired.

15. What purpose do food offerings serve? What benefit does it have for the God?

Food is the most essential means of nourishment, and it’s also concrete abundance and wealth. It sustains and giving food offerings sustains the relationships we have formed with our Gods. It’s not so much what it does for the Gods – They will continue to exist whether or not we honor Them thusly – but that it sustains us in relationship with the Gods. It is a sharing of all that we are, of all that sustains us with the Holy Powers. It’s a reminder that we are part of a vital, reciprocal relationship, one that requires – as any relationship does—constant, ongoing attention to remain healthy. I do think with land spirits and with ancestors, the food offerings do provide a type of spiritual nourishment but with the Gods something different is going on and in the end, we are the ones being nourished by being brought continually into a state of awareness and remembrance of the debt that we owe Them for our existence, and the myriad ways in which They nourish us always as a mother and father nourish their child.

Aug 20 AThena altar

16. How do you perform divination? How do you interpret your answers?

I can’t answer this question simply. I’m a professional diviner as part and parcel of being a competent priest and spirit worker. I’ve trained for thirty years to do this work well and I continue to work hard, both on my own and under supervision of elders and more experienced diviners (including those outside of my tradition – one of my best teachers was a Lukumi priest who was willing to share his knowledge of the sacred art). Doing divination well involves cultivating intense devotion, spiritual discernment, being attentive to miasma and pollution, and  maintaining humility before the Powers. There are technical skills to master (whatever systems one divines with) but also the ability to communicate divination if one is working with clients. It’s rather like translating. One receives this information often a myriad of ways and very rarely in nice verbal chunks, then one has to translate it into words. After that, one interprets for the client or oneself. I’ve written books on the subject of divination and it’s one of the things that every competent spirit worker should know. To be a diviner is a sacred calling, much like a priestly vocation. It is the gift whereby we are able to know what our Gods want and whether or not we are in right relationship. How I interpret my answers depends on the client, the question, the Gods and spirits involved. Sometimes it is reading a pattern, looking at fate and probability and explaining what I see, sometimes it’s listening to what their ancestors or Gods have to say, sometimes it is being taken up as an oracle, and sometimes a combination of all of this and more. The point is that this is a sacred craft that takes years and years to master, one that demands continual work to keep one’s skills sharp.

17. Do you have discernment criteria for your own UPG? How common do you think it is for people to directly experience the Gods?

Of course. I pray, meditate, divine. I will often seek out other clergy or elders. There’s a process, as all devotion is a process and in the end I trust my Gods in the relationship we have established. I think that it is perfectly  natural to experience the Gods. That is the heart of every tradition. I think also, however, that it can be terrifying – I believe it was St. Paul who said, it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. No shit. It really is and it changes everything. I think that there is nothing in our world that prepares us or encourages us in developing the devotional consciousness necessary to open up, such intense vulnerability, to the Gods. In fact, I think we’re raised to everything but so while it should be as natural as breathing, instead because of the disorder and disease of our world and culture, it has become a struggle. My husband of course, also a polytheist, disagrees. He says it’s always been difficult and maybe he’s right. There’s a passage in Lucan, where he’s writing about a priestess about to carry the God Apollo as a oracle. She’s begging the petitioner not to make her do this, because it such an overwhelming and painful process. It can be. But I think we make it harder than it has to be. I also think there’s always been some people who are better able to go into the necessary head and heartspace than others, just as there are some people able to make amazing music, like Mozart.

18. Why did you choose Heathenry and Hellenism? Why not the religion of your Lithuanian ancestors?

I’m not a practitioner of Hellenismos. I practice cultus-deorum and Heathenry (so more Roman than Greek. Hellenismos is specifically Greek polytheism.). But I didn’t choose. Odin and Loki chose me and I was smart enough to comply. That led me (rather against my will) to Heathenry. Over the years I was pushed by Them to seek out the Greco-Roman Gods, particularly Hermes (and later Apollo and Dionysos). That all happened rather organically though.

It’s not that big a leap. The Romans went everywhere and brought their Gods with them, including into the northlands, and likewise the Germanic tribes eventually brought their Gods with them when they came to Rome. There was always exchange and conversation between these traditions. I rather like to think that I’m continuing that in the present day. But I didn’t choose. I went where my Gods pushed me.

As to why I don’t practice Romuva, well, the Lithuanian Gods never called me. I have some taboos from my Lithuanian ancestors, mostly protocols for engaging with them, and some obligations around kindling fire but otherwise, nothing.

(That was the end of the formal interview, but we had a follow up in person chat, going over these and a few other questions but overall, I found this a very interesting interview, and so, I share it with my readers here. Thank you, A.R. for allowing me to do so). 

racoon 

 

 

 

Polytheistic Voices: Interview with Emily Kamp

PannykhisEKI first met Emily through my husband’s tradition, the Starry Bull and over the years we’ve had quite a few conversations on honoring the dead, raising children in our polytheistic traditions, and the importance of building a hearth tradition. I was very glad when she agreed to be interviewed for this series. 

 

 

GK: Tell us a little bit about yourself. Who are you, what do you do?

Emily: Hi there! I’m Emily, a polytheist and initiate of the Starry Bull tradition. I do a lot of devotional work for my Gods and Spirits, and most of that work consists of divination, education, development of local-focus traditions, ritual creation and adaptation, singing for the Gods and Spirits, and honoring the local Dead. I’m currently exploring face paint and stage makeup as ways of adding depth and drama to ritual.

When I’m not doing devotional work, I’m the social media marketing manager for a small tea company and a mother of a four-year-old who enjoys praying to the ancestors and rocking out to hair metal.

GK: How did you come to polytheism? What tradition do you practice?

Emily: I’ve been a polytheist (unwillingly, at first), since I encountered Hermes at the age of seven. I began exploring Hellenic polytheism as a teenager, and solidifying my practice in the late 2000s; 2013-14 found me stumbling into the Starry Bull tradition, which has been more or less my base of operations ever since. My praxis is usually Hellenic. I do find myself exploring the outskirts though, drawing from other traditions and regions that associate with Dionysian ones—off the top of my head, I can think of the Greek Magical Papyri, Ptolemaic Egypt, and even some Norse materials. (Congratulations on creating the Comitatus Pilae Cruentae, by the way! It’s been fascinating to watch its evolution. I’m really excited to see where that goes.)

GK: Why unwilling to become a polytheist? That’s interesting!

Emily: Not as surprising as you might think—I was raised in a Christian household. It was not an easy thing to see past my upbringing to the reality of the Gods—I felt Them calling me as soon as I started reading myths, but couldn’t figure out if these “storybook figures” were actually calling to me or just really vivid imaginary friends. Muddling the matter was the fact that I had channeled my interest in Divine Mystery and mysticism into my family’s church. I even (when still quite young) considered joining the clergy! Choosing instead to go with  the Gods who called me meant turning a significant portion of my family’s culture and personal identity on its head, and eventually dealing with my family’s responses to my choices. It was incredibly rewarding, but not easy.

GK: You work a great deal with Pentheus. Can you tell my readers who he is and why you work with him and how that has impacted your spiritual life?

Emily: Pentheus was a king of Thebes and a first cousin of Dionysos. In life, he refused to let Dionysos spread his cultus to Thebes and, long story short, suffered the consequences. After being torn apart by a group of Dionysos’ maenads, his own mother among them, he became one of the Dionysian dead—death by dismemberment is a forced initiation.

As one of the Dionysian dead, and one of the Dionysian kings, he works a great deal with restoring right relations between the Dead, the Land Spirits, the living, and the Gods; as a Spirit, he is a sin-eater who can take the brunt of incredibly miasmic forces and still be okay. He is an incredible ally when I’m working to restore right relationships between the Gods, Land, and Dead of the city I live in; we have similar goals. In a way, he acts as a bit of a spiritual compass for me, giving me strong instincts regarding proper treatment of the local Spirits and Dead and a sense of when miasma needs to be cleansed.

On a personal level, he and his story have helped me break through some conditioning and perfectionism issues that were holding my devotional work back. I honor Him primarily through ecstatic dance accompanied by a specific type of music—usually something with a strong, driving beat, in a minor key, with lyrics that speak to all the emotions that accompany a need to be broken open. As I dance, I open myself up to Pentheus and allow him to see what has been troubling me. When he finds the thread he wants to trace, it feels like our emotions meld and my story fuses to His. The story gives me a way to feel my emotions and work through pain (particularly deeply-repressed pain) without getting stuck in a negative spiral—we know how Pentheus’ story ends, and it is a cathartic union with Dionysos. Maybe not the gentlest of cathartic unions, but it’s the kick in the pants I need!

GK: What challenges have you faced raising your child as a polytheist? Can you recommend any resources for polytheistic parents?

Emily: My daughter isn’t in school yet, so I haven’t had to face the things I’m most worried about just yet; I’m not looking forward to talks I may have with her teachers or helping her field/deal with comments about her beliefs. There have been challenges, though. Telling her grandparents about our beliefs was scary, and I consider it a blessing that they have been nothing but understanding. Now if we could just find a preschool in the area that wasn’t run out of a church…

As for resources, on a spiritual level I highly recommend forging a relationship with one’s ancestors if it’s not already there. The ancestors have a vested interest in seeing their descendants succeed, after all!

In terms of books, articles, and blogs, I’m still (always) looking for resources, but the book that introduced me to the Theoi when I was still little was Aliki’s The Gods and Goddesses of Olympus. I know other Hellenic polytheists who read D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths. Two of my favorite polytheist bloggers who also write about their experiences as parents are Camilla Laurentine and Sarenth—Camilla is great at giving details about how her practice and parenting shape each other and tips for how to include children in festivals (like her article on celebrating the Kalends with her daughter here!), while Sarenth has given some great advice on why raising our children in our traditions is important (like in this article here).

And for my unsolicited advice as a polytheist parent: use LOTS of images of the Gods in your home, and have illustrated mythology books oriented towards kids, so your children can get used to seeing and talking about the Gods. It’s a good thing to have even if the myths are from outside your tradition—that’s how I got introduced to Hermes to begin with. Researching local temples for other polytheistic traditions in your area (Hindu or Shinto in particular) gives children a great place to learn about living polytheism. It’s also a great opportunity to teach them about temple rules and hospitality!

And nothing beats having friends in the area who are polytheists or sympathetic to polytheists, especially if they’re parents themselves. Having a community to remind you that you aren’t alone is invaluable, especially given how isolating and stressful the attitude toward parenting is in the U.S. right now. If you can’t find friends in your area, finding an online community is still a big help!

GK: What would you tell someone wanting to begin a devotional relationship with the Gods in general and Dionysos in particular?

Emily: The same sort of thing I’d tell someone who was planning on making a big change to any part of their life—leaving their job to find a new career, or getting married, or having children, or any of the myriad adventures we can go on in our lives. You have to want it, you have to be willing to work for it and you have to be okay with it changing you. As with any other big change, you will change, and as old parts of your life start fading away you may see things and people you love go with it.

It’s up to you to decide where your boundaries are, where you aren’t willing to go, and what (and whom) you aren’t willing to give up. And it’s up to you to decide when and if the sacrifices are worth it. If you feel fear, don’t ignore it—but don’t succumb to it, either, because the times we most fear leaping are often the times our Gods will most want us to.

This sounds a bit cliched even for my tastes, but it’s true—I suspect anyone walking these paths will know exactly what I mean.

GK: I know that developing a devotional life is not without its challenges and Dionysos can be especially adamant about facing our weaknesses. How have you dealt with the challenges that have come up in your devotional life? What has worked for you, what really hasn’t, and what would you suggest when others hit those bitter, dark places?

Emily: Man, and I thought this interview was going to be easy.

Because of my particular blend of issues, my response to dealing with problems in my devotional life has largely been to pretend they don’t exist. It has gone about as well as you’d imagine. I do eventually scratch my way out, but it’s definitely a fight.

We all encounter times where we question why we’re doing this, what good we’re getting out of it, or why the Gods are treating us this way. Maybe your Gods have gone silent on you, or maybe They’ve taken an outright antagonistic role and you’re starting to resent your practice. Maybe your whole life got turned upside down and nothing feels stable.

My first and biggest piece of advice is: get a therapist. Get a therapist with whom you can get along—that part’s vital, and might take some shopping around. Particularly with Deities like Dionysos, the rough spots in our devotional lives often stem from things we haven’t yet faced in our lives outside of devotional work. (And vice-versa—problems in our devotional lives can and will radiate outward into our lives outside of that work.)  It can make an incredible difference to have a therapist who will listen to your problems and help you spot the negative and/or unsuccessful patterns you’re stuck in. A therapist who’s worth their salt will listen to you regardless of religion and not judge you for it.

Outside of therapy: don’t be afraid to change how you do things devotionally; don’t be afraid to scale a practice back, or look for new ways to work, or to approach new Deities. You know how pharmaceutical commercials say “ask your Doctor if XYZ is right for you”? Ask your diviner if XYZ is right for you. And if your diviner says that this issue is for you to work out on your own…listen to Them. The Gods will sometimes back off to give you the space to work through matters on your own before regrouping.

If you’re outright feeling resentful to the point that you are refusing to engage in prayer, or if you feel repulsed from it…you probably won’t want to take my advice, but I’ll say it anyway: you probably have a larger unresolved issue going on that is starting to become miasmic. It’s like the psychological version of a wound that became infected instead of healing. You’ll need to do all of the above and consult someone who can help you build up a stronger regimen for cleansing your energy and that of your living space. Dear fellow perfectionists: I feel like we’re some of the most at-risk people for this. You’ll see the beauty in your high standards when it’s time to discipline yourself for a new and better devotional regimen.

GK: I very much agree with that. If you can find a polytheistic friendly therapist, go because old scars, wounds, issues, pain, insecurities — it’ll all be dredged up in the course of this work precisely so we can deal with it. Ignoring that can be devastating. That being said, can you tell us a little bit about the Gods and spirits that you honor and are there particular protocols that ought to be followed?

Emily: I primarily honor Dionysos, Ariadne, Hermes, Hestia, my Ancestors, the Gods and Spirits and Dead of my city, and the Gods and Spirits and Dead of the Starry Bull tradition (particularly Alexander of Makedon and Pentheus). I feel hesitant to speak on protocols, not because they’re unimportant but because I have little experience in recognizing and implementing them relative to the spirit workers I know. Here are some opinions on and examples of my personal protocols, though:

Dionysos tends not to be as heavy on protocol, but it depends on the capacity in which one is honoring Him. His protocols go up, for example, if you are honoring Him as Eubouleus, “He of Good Counsel” (a chthonic aspect associated with mediating relationships between the living and the Dead). Really, anything having to do with the Dead will be pretty high protocol because of the higher risk of miasmic contamination.

Ariadne is high-protocol during festivals. She is the High Holy one, and should be approached as such. To do anything less is to show disrespect to Her. I go through a multilayered cleansing to set aside ritual space for Her: delineating Her sacred space with a line of cornmeal or kaolin clay, asperging everything inside that boundary with khernips, walking its perimeter with a candle and inviting Fire to consume and transmute any pollution inside the boundary, and maintaining the purity of the space with incense. Cleansing baths are also a must with rituals to Ariadne, and I have even changed which beauty products I use and how I apply them if what I was doing didn’t feel “clean” enough.

Hermes is not usually high-protocol (unless you are honoring Him in His capacity as psychopomp—but again, that’s because of the influence of the Dead). He respects protocol as a sign of respect, and will happily receive it, but if I make too great or too formal an offering, especially on someone else’s behalf, the offering does not seem to go over well with Him. He values offerings made with a strong sense of situational awareness.

GK: i never thought about that, but you’re right. The only time He is high protocol with me is in that particular capacity and it’s very much on account of the dead. The dead can be *massively* high protocol!

Pentheus has given me a specific cleansing protocol for honoring Him—a cleansing bath that contains dry, tannic red wine. I find the Dionysian Kings value ritual purity pretty highly: Alexander favors white clothes and frankincense, while Pentheus favors black clothing and catharsis with blood or wine.

I clean and cleanse my house from top to bottom once a week to honor Hestia and the Household Gods and Spirits, and try to maintain that cleanliness as much as I can. Hestia Herself has never struck me as high-protocol. She is happy with a well-kept home that is comforting and inviting to others, and offerings that are associated with hospitality. Just as Hestia resides at the center of the home of the Gods, though, this practice is the center of all the rest of mine; it ensures that my living space is clean enough (physically and on a miasmic level) to accommodate my other practices.

On days with historic significance in my city, I visit graveyards and offer to the Dead there to help soothe Them and bring Them joy. I have a certain set of cemetery protocols I follow to help soothe the Dead and keep Them from following me home, involving offerings of tobacco and liberal use of kaolin clay.

I do divination once a month on behalf of the Gods and Spirits of the Starry Bull tradition and follow a strict protocol for setting up divination space and calling the presence of my Ancestors, Gods, and Spirits into it. Following this protocol makes my divination much, much clearer.

GK: Sannion mentioned to me that you do a blog on domestic cultus. Can you tell me a little bit about what that type of cultus entails, what got you involved, etc. and share the blog?

Emily: I do! The blog I run, Home, Hearth, and Heart, is dedicated to Hestia, and contains suggestions for all types of devotional work (for Household Gods and Spirits or otherwise). These are pretty basic materials; one of my target audiences is the group of people who are new to revived polytheistic faiths, who might not have much of an idea of where to begin and what all, outside of research, they can do.

I give themed devotional suggestions for each day of the week—creating Deity playlists on Music Mondays and dusting altar decorations on Cleanse-Day Wednesdays, for example. Alongside these, I include commentary on lunar calendar dates, links to hymns, important dates in the Hellenic month, festival descriptions, and the occasional Q&A. These are the things I wish I’d had when I was starting out about a decade ago!
For those of you who want to check it out, you can find it here.

GK: Thank you, Emily. I appreciate you taking the time to do the interview. For those reading, i’d love to hear what type of hearth cultus you all maintain, what you do at home, what challenges have arisen, and how you’ve dealt with them — especially if you’re laity. I don’t think we hear enough from our lay voices. So feel free to post in the comments. 

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Be sure to check out my other sites:

Wyrd Curiosities at Etsy

My academia.edu page

My amazon author page.

Walking the Worlds Journal

My art blog at Krasskova Creations

My blog about all things strange, weird and medieval.

And if you like what you see, consider becoming a sponsor at Patreon.

A Fascinating Interview with C. Emerick

Jon Upsal recently reached out to folklorist Carolyn Emerick and the resulting interview was quite interesting and enlightening, much better than the Wild Hunt coverage. The link is here and I suggest people take read. Emerick has been shat upon professionally because she holds to the radical notion that Europeans are people too. 

Polytheistic Voices: Interview with Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

PtahPortrait_2v2 - CopyI first became acquainted with Ptahmassu several years ago when I commissioned a series of icons for my prayer card series. His work was stunning and it was very clear immediately that his icons were living embodiments of divine energy. The Gods had blessed him as a craftsman and artist. He is a fierce polytheist and I am delighted that he was able to take the time for this interview.

GK:  Tell me a little bit about yourself and your work. Who are you and what do you do?

Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa:  My life as a servant of the Gods has taken me on a very windy road.  It feels like each stage of my life has witnessed the Gods calling me to another level or mode of service, and with each level has come a more wholesome understanding of who the Gods are and what They have to say to humankind.  I was legally ordained as a priest of the Temple of Isis California in 2001 by the Rt. Rev. Lady Loreon Vignè, and a priest of the Fellowship of Isis by Lady Olivia Robertson.  The spiritual visions of the TOI and FOI have played a significant role in the development of my spiritual work, which has become- more and more- the path of devotional service to the living Gods.  

 I regard myself as a devotional Polytheist, primarily in the Kemetic tradition, though there are other pantheons I serve with cultus.  My direct experience has demonstrated to me that the Gods are unique and individual manifestations of the Divine.  They each have Their own powers and spheres of influence, material and spiritual forms, personalities and methods for revealing Their presences to devotees.  I reject entirely the rather New Age concept of the Gods as merely different faces of the same inscrutable god, and the ever popular neo-Pagan ideal that views all gods as one god, and all goddesses as one goddess.  In these regards you could call me something of a hard Polytheist. 

My calling to Kemetic Polytheism has found its most profound outlet in my work as a ritualist and an iconographer, both of which I see as two sides of the same coin.  For me, Kemeticism is bound to our immediate relationship with our Gods, the Netjeru, Who engage humankind through the actions of cultus, which revolve around the divine presences inherent in ritually awakened images.  It was through a very gradual process spanning a number of years that I was directed to use my priestly skills in conjunction with my skills as an artist and crafts-person.  The result of this process is my vocation as a Kemetic iconographer, which is my sole vocation, in the place of secular work.  My goal is to eventually establish a guild of Kemetic iconographers to carry out the continued revival of Kemetic ritual practices via the iconographic arts of the temple.  Innate to this goal is the philosophy of Kemetic polytheism as a body of religious practices to which the living Gods are central.  I want my work, more than anything, to be a voice for devotional Polytheism.

 GK:  How did you come to polytheism? Do you maintain venerative practice to any particular Deities?

Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa:  I was raised in a very strict, conservative Christian family, one in which a fairly literal, black and white interpretation of the King James translation of the Bible held sway.  My siblings and I were raised to fear hell as a physical reality for the damned, that Satan and his demons were a continual threat to every Christian soul, and that even to question the infallible and inerrant truth of the Bible was to jeopardize one’s soul.  But even as a very young boy I found myself rejecting the very notion that only a single god existed, and had this overwhelming sense that Christianity was wholly flawed, and wholly incompatible with my intellectual and spiritual beliefs.

My father was a student of the arts and humanities and maintained a fantastic library, and it was in his library that I found books on the Classical and antique worlds, which introduced me to the religious art and architecture of the ancient Egyptians.  I was about six years old when I had my first taste of ancient Egyptian iconography, and became fixated on this idea that these people were my people, and these gods were my gods.  It happened very suddenly- upon seeing pictures of Kemetic deities- that I began to pray to the Goddesses and Gods of ancient Egypt, which felt more natural to me than I had ever felt in a Christian church.  There was this powerful response whenever I looked at pictures of Kemetic deities, a response that embraced and answered me, and this became a solid call to follow these Gods as my religious path.

A few years later, through a mutual acquaintance, I was introduced to Lady Loreon Vignè, founder of Temple of Isis and Isis Oasis Sanctuary in California, and began a feverish correspondence that changed my life forever.  Lady Loreon and her partner Paul Ramses had established themselves as pioneers of the metaphysical community, with a strong focus on the revival of ancient Egyptian spirituality.  It was through their generous guidance and tutelage that I was able to access both mainstream academic, Egyptological publications on ancient Egyptian religion, and the more esoteric materials I desired to study seriously.  They also introduced me to Lady Olivia Robertson, co-founder of the Fellowship of Isis, who took me under her wing and nurtured me in my budding relationships with the ancient Gods.  Lady Olivia was especially vocal concerning the natures of the Gods, that They were physically real, not simply the spiritual archetypes of New Age thought.  In a nutshell, that is how I came to Polytheism.

I maintain venerative practices, cultus, to all the Kemetic Netjeru, believe it or not.  I’m very much a polytheist, and my daily life revolves around maintaining the practices of prayer and offering to the Netjeru as comprehensively as possible.  There seems to be a trend among some Kemetics to choose one Netjer to whom they feel especially drawn, and focus an almost monotheistic zeal on this deity, while leaving the other Netjeru to the wayside or primarily as figments of lips service.  I consider myself fortunate in these regards not to have fallen prey to this mode of thinking, which I feel is a carryover from monotheism, and is not authentic to ancient Egyptian spiritual life.  I was ordained a priest of the Goddesses Auset and Sekhmet, and I have taken priestly vows to the God Ptah, Whom I regard as my patron and protector, and I am certainly faithful to the vows and levels of commitment I have made to these Netjeru as my most personal deities; however, I am a polytheist, and my polytheism embraces all the Gods, and sees offering and cultus to all the Gods as a joy and priority.  I really want to emphasize that, that while my love and ties to my patron Netjeru are fiercely strong, I experience polytheism as the constant engagement of many, many gods, and perpetual service to many, many gods.

 GK:  Your art is, by your own words, a powerful devotional act. Talk to me a little bit about that. This is your service to your Gods. I think that’s an important thing and one that my readers would be very interested in learning more about.

Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa:  Service is the perfect word here.  The kind of polytheism I practice- the kind of polytheism I feel compelled to share with others- is devotional polytheism grounded in hands-on and active service.  For me this means the worship of the hands, which cups my vows to the God Ptah, the Creator of substance, form, and all things crafted.  It is said in the famous theology inscribed on the Shabaka Stone that Lord Ptah, as the Creator of all things and all words, carved the bodies of the Gods from all manner of wood, stone, and clay, and that He created the Kas or Souls of the Gods and established Them in Their bodies.  He then organized the cults and festivals and temples of all the Gods, and because of this Ptah is known as the greatest of the Gods.  Quite naturally my veneration of Ptah has called on me to use the cult of craftsmanship for divine service, to restore and perpetuate the traditional iconographic forms through which the Netjeru have made Themselves known, through which They have maintained a dialogue with the human world.  Central to ritual and devotion from a Kemetic perspective is the cult of images, for it is the sacral image- sanctified and awakened to an inner spiritual life all its own- that connects us directly and immediately to the invisible world of the Gods.  In essence, they, images, make the Gods and Their world visible, and establish a point of contact between human and divine.

In these regards I have been called to create my own practice of iconography, which at its heart is a devotional act, a cultic act, which, like prayer or ritual worship in sacred space, draws the Gods and myself together.  Iconography is the practice of infusing material substances and forms with sacred meaning and power.  It is the art that elevates human beings into the dynamic presences of the living Gods. So, as an iconographer, a craftsman of cult images, my vocation serves my personal spiritual aims of walking closely with my Gods, and at the same time fulfills part of my official duties as a priest of the God Ptah through service to His Royal Workshop.

Something I feel we’ve been separated from through the corrosive authority of monotheism is the vitality and sacred power of our Ancestral God-images.  We’ve grown up in a culture that teaches the falseness of all images and falseness of all gods save the one god of the Abrahamic faiths.  From the religions of the book we’ve inherited the prohibition and derision of images, and the fear of divine retribution for venerating forms crafted by the human hand.  But our ancient polytheisms were all established on the knowledge that the Sacred, the Gods and Their powers, were directly manifest in the material world- not only in nature, but in reflections of the natural world as viewed through the lens of man-made forms.  God-images have a central role to play in almost every polytheistic society our planet has known, and all of them have maintained that craft fueled by human devotion is abundantly powerful and fused with holiness.  Only the Abrahamic faiths- which are relatively new to our world- have disdained human ingenuity and intuition when it is expressed through the sacred arts.  This monotheistic disdain has been our inheritance, and it is an inheritance I am eager to smash in its entirety.

So, my work as a priest-iconographer is that of reintroducing the sanctity of our Ancestral God-images as the foundation of a living service and cultus to our Gods.  Prayer, meditation, offering, sacrifice, ritual dance, the recitation of hymns and chants; these are all modes of sacred service that revolve around the holy presence of cult images, which are much more than symbols or reminders.  Cult images that have been ritually awakened and received by a deity become part of the Gods they represent, and therefore have the power to listen, speak, and intercede for us.  We have a persistent idea imposed upon us by monotheism that man-made images or idols are inert and powerless representations of false gods; and yet for thousands of years human beings have known through their intuitive faculties that our Gods have the power to transform inert matter into something living and vital, infused with a sacred life force that answers prayers and dispenses boons.  This feeling is much older than monotheism, and my belief is that the history of God-images in polytheism discounts the prohibitions of monotheism absolutely.

 GK:  What would you tell someone just coming into polytheism? What do you feel are the most important points of attention and praxis?

Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa:  We’ve inherited so much spiritually obstructive baggage from monotheism, that my first and biggest piece of advice to polytheism newcomers is to avoid- at all cost- falling into monotheistic patterns of thought and belief, and projecting these onto the polytheisms they are trying to adopt.  I see this happen so often.  A person fresh out of monotheism comes to Kemeticism or Hellenic Reconstructionism or Polytheism in general, and instead of embracing the experience of pluralism that Polytheism is, they extract one deity in a pantheon and focus the bulk of their energy on worshiping that one deity.  People do this for one big reason, in my opinion; they do it because although they’re unhappy with the concept of monotheism, and although they may sincerely wish to leave that way of thinking behind, it’s still what they’ve always known, what they’re surrounded by in the families and society in which they’ve grown up, so in a sense it’s what they’re most *comfortable* with.  

The concept of Polytheism is no longer part of our social nature, because monotheism has overtaken our awareness of our own history and cultural identity, and erased any sympathy with other modes of thinking or belief.  We’re automatically conditioned to believe that monotheism is intellectually and spiritually superior to any other form of belief; in fact, we’re taught that monotheism and veneration of the singular (of oneness) is the only valid perspective to have.  Because of this preconditioning, people have a really hard time accepting the actual practice of Polytheism, despite their intellectual willingness to belong.

My strongest advice is to begin with a clean slate.  Come to Polytheism prepared to abolish the entire framework of religious beliefs you’ve been conditioned to believe are valid, and open your mind to the vast experience that worship of many deities provides.  Somehow people expect that if religion is overwhelming or uncomfortable or unfathomable, it isn’t good.  Something you learn very early on when you adopt an ancient Polytheism is that the Gods are overwhelming and unfathomable and mysterious, and that a certain amount of bewilderment and discomfort comes with the territory.  Don’t expect an easy ride, when you’re rejecting your monotheistic upbringing and adopting a very foreign spiritual framework.  

Pluralism and multiplicity are by their natures overwhelming because they present us with unlimited possibilities of experience and interpretation simultaneously, and in our predominantly monotheistic society we’re used to the concept that ultimately there is and can be only one right way to believe, cupped by one right way to express that one belief.  Polytheism presents us with the exact opposite; it shows us not only thousands upon thousands of deities who each have their own unique personalities and powers, but also, and perhaps even more overwhelming, the truth that truth itself is plural and vast, and cannot possibly be boiled down to only one point of view or creed.  Polytheism is vastly flexible and fluid.  It isn’t static the way monotheism can be.  It bends and grows and demands a certain kind of resilience in our manner of expressing its many and imaginative forms.

What I advise any newcomer to polytheism is to avoid the monotheistic pitfall of choosing that one deity you feel closest to in a pantheon and stopping there- simply because it softens the edge of Polytheism and makes it more comfortable.  In the end, this will only wind up cutting you off from the richness of Polytheism and the limitless blessings of its many Gods.  I say dive right in, introduce yourself to your pantheon and ask the Gods to introduce Themselves to you.  Don’t be afraid of feeling overwhelmed because feeling overwhelmed is actually part of the mystery and majesty of the Gods; a certain feeling of awe, and even terror, is part of what the Ancients experienced through the Mysteries, the process of initiation, of being adopted by the Gods into Their community of celebrants.  Some awe and fear and bewilderment is good, because it means you’re connected to the sensation of feeling the Gods, instead of just parroting a belief in Them.  Explore the presences of a number of Gods at the same time, and always resist the temptation to settle back into any monotheistic tendencies you may still be carrying with you.

By far the most important point I can make is praxis, that is, establishing a regular daily practice of offering and veneration of the Gods.  One of the most common things I notice in contemporary Polytheist and Reconstructionist communities is an over emphasis on theory, on research and reading and intellectualizing the Gods, while seeing actual ritual, worship, and offering as somehow less vital than cerebral engagement.  Yes, it’s important to study and embrace philosophy, to understand the roots of our ancient Polytheisms and strive to honor the Gods through the art of learning; especially in Reconstructionism, where the intention is to recover authentic texts and modes of worship via the historical, Ancestral record.  I embrace this and understand its vital role.  However, I see a less balanced dialogue taking place today between theory and practice in many Polytheist groups and individuals, and I think this needs to be addressed by our priesthoods and clergies.  At the end of the day living religion means direct experience, not mere theory or book learning.  No amount of study or research can replace the actual presence of sacred relationships as the fulfillment of our spiritual life.  This means we have to open up our intuitive, emotional faculties to the existence of the Gods, which in devotional Polytheism is awakened and enhanced through cultic acts, praxis- ritual worship, offering, sacrifice, sacred dance, and the recitation of hymns or sacred texts.

Offering and sacrifice are what I regard as the key ingredients of cult and praxis.  Truly, they are two sides of the same coin.  Offering has to be a root part of how we establish active relationships with our Gods, and cultivate those relationships continually.  Without offering, there is no energetic link between our human nature and the immortal natures of the Gods; offering provides the link of communication that ties us to the Gods, from which we give and They give in return.  Our relationship with Them is based on reciprocity, and this exists in every single mode of Polytheism I have ever studied.  All Polytheisms maintain this awareness that our Gods give because we give, and that They engage us because we engage Them, and that this cannot be taken for granted.

So, I tell all my students that the first framework we put into place is the devotional framework constructed through daily offering, which flows from the notion of sacrifice.  Sacrifice is the offering of that which we hold most valuable, which can be our time, energy, and material resources.  Our time is certainly, in the modern world, one of our most valuable commodities, so this is something we need to be prepared to give to our Gods.  When we give up something that is precious to us, something it pains us to give, then we are performing sacrifice, and this is the holiest form of offering that exists.  When we pour out a libation of wine or beer on the shrine, or make a presentation of food and flowers, we are creating an energetic bond between our Gods and our human life, and we are asking the Gods to enter into that life and partake of its essence.  Without offering, without sacrifice…without this vital exchange of energy and intention, there is no connection between our life and the Divine world, and we cannot hope to benefit from it.

Secondly, I think it’s vital for us to establish some kind of Ancestor veneration, some legitimate recognition of those who have gone before us to pave the way for our sacred life and relationships with our Gods.  This is another of the practices monotheism has stripped from our life in the contemporary west; but in all ancient Polytheisms, recognition of the Dead, the Ancestors, and the Forebears of the tradition forms a most significant part of daily spiritual life.  I think this comes in two parts.  The first is honoring ones’ immediate blood family and personal relationships with the dead, which is done through offerings and prayers, and actually talking to the dead through the medium of sacred space- a shrine, a photograph, or visitation to a grave site or memorial.  The second form of Ancestor veneration, and the one which for me is most powerful in my Kemetic practice, is veneration of the Ancestors of one’s faith line, that is, the people who have served the same Gods you are serving now.

Since we as Polytheists are most often coming out of monotheistic families and monotheistic preconditioning, it’s often hard for us to feel *rooted* in our ancient Polytheisms in the modern world.  It’s sometimes hard for us to maintain that feeling of immediate connection with very ancient traditions from which we have been separated through our upbringing in predominantly monotheistic modes of thinking and behaving; so, there is a need now more than ever for Ancestor veneration practices that bring us back into the framework of a daily experience of walking with our Gods.  So, what I recommend is an investigation into the individuals and communities that have served the same Gods and traditions we are now striving to serve, and creating a regular practice of prayer and offering in order to generate the blessings of souls who have the advantage of being directly in the presences of our Gods, who can help us bring through those blessings more easily.

 GK:  What do you feel are the greatest challenges facing our communities and the restoration of our traditions today?

Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa:  One of the greatest challenges I see facing the restoration of our ancient Polytheisms is the currently trending notion that some way, somehow, we can circumvent the worship of the Gods and still call ourselves Polytheists or Kemetics or Heathens.  The root of this issue is a heated debate over the very notion of worship and reverence, and the role the Gods have to play in our contemporary world.  There is this deeply disturbing notion being voiced- especially on the Internet- that worship and devotion to the Gods is on a par with humiliation and degradation and subservience, which we as almighty, all important humans should be exempt from.  Why should we serve the Gods?  Why should we acknowledge the Gods, let alone acknowledge Their greatness as exceeding our own?  Why should we bow to anyone or anything, since we are at the top of the food chain, after all, and see ourselves as the center of importance in the created world?

The Ancients lived in a very different world than our own.  They saw the Gods as living through the natural world and its awesome powers, its life and changes and death; and the Gods were experienced through all the pangs and suffering life had to offer.  There was no sense that human life was separate or could be separate from the influence of the Gods.  But today we live in a very secular society, though a society still dominated by the influence of monotheism.  This is a society in which human beings take precedence over all, and there is nothing so great as our mind, our ambition, and our will to control and change and harness our environment.

The restoration of Polytheistic traditions faces these attitudes en masse, and a profound part of that is this overwhelming sense of self entitlement, this sense that the human ego is matchless in the universe and deserves to take center stage.  Polytheism as it was expressed for thousands of years is the polar opposite of this attitude.  Ancient Polytheisms placed the Gods at the center of creation and humankind on the periphery, and urged that it was humankind’s responsibility to engage and honor the Gods, and to draw the Gods out into Their creation for the benefit of all life.  The Ancients realized that humankind was in an interdependent relationship with its Gods, and one in which both sides of the equation had a vital role to play.  This kind of interdependence- between Gods and the ongoing work of life as sacred creation- is the backbone of the Kemetic tradition to which I belong, but it can be seen in other ancient Polytheistic societies, where there is an acute awareness of the sacred law of reciprocity- the Gods giving because humankind gives.

But we seem to have cut ourselves off from this awareness possessed by our ancient Ancestors.  We’ve replaced the Gods with ourselves, and have made giving to ourselves, and mass consumption, the modus operandi of our civilization.  So, what I see happening to the discussion of Gods and devotion is more of a focus on what we- human beings- are going to get from it, and why the Gods are worthy of our worship in the first place, and even if the Gods are really necessary to the continuance of our spiritual life.  What we’re fighting for right now, it seems, is the right to proclaim Polytheism as the veneration of many gods; Gods who are not only worthy of our worship, but entitled to it because of Their innate greatness as gods and the gift of life They have given us.

The reclamation of devotion, and of the rich thread of cultic traditions that go with it, is what I see as one of the greatest challenges facing our Polytheist communities today.  We seem to be engaged in a fierce debate over the relevance of our Gods, and even over the simple dictionary definition of what Polytheism is, when I feel we should be strengthening the training of our laypeople and clergies alike in the process of reviving our devotional cultic practices.  By practices I mean everything from daily rituals, offerings, and Ancestor veneration to rites of passage such as births, marriages, and funerary rites.  We need more rites of passage and empowerment for those in military service and inmates in prison, and we need to strengthen our Polytheist communities, not just through open dialogue and discussion, but through inviting one another to actively participate in holy rites that unite us in service to our living Gods.  But I see these things are being hampered and set back by this ongoing debate over why or if we should venerate our Gods in the first place.  It should go without saying that actual worship of the Gods is what makes Polytheism a religious experience in the first place; but we can’t take that for granted when we have voices from within our communities that are striving to dismantle our devotional relationships with our Gods.  This really needs to be the focus of our efforts if our traditions are going to survive.

 GK:  How do you pray? Why do you think it’s important?

Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa: I pray all the time!  Prayer means many things to different people, but for me, from the point of view of a devotional Polytheist and Kemetic, prayer is a form of direct communication with the Gods.  It is a vital tool for cementing and maintaining my relationship with my Gods, for keeping that channel of reciprocity open between my daily life and the boons of the Netjeru.  My prayers come in many forms.  There are my very personal prayers offered in front of our shrine to the Household Gods.  These aren’t necessarily formal or eloquent or poetic.  They take the form of whatever words I feel I need to say to my Gods; complaints and requests for healing, getting some worries off my chest, expressing gratitude, or simply calling on various deities to be present and commune with me.  I come before the household shrine several times throughout my day, to light a candle and make an offering of incense or to pour out a libation.  I’ll recite simple prayers during the day that are my own personal prayers, or abbreviations of the official prayers I say as part of my duties as a priest.  

Of course, there are the official prayers of the Daily Ritual, which I chant in the ancient Egyptian language, and are accompanied by the formal gestures and offerings of the cult.  These are some of the most ancient prayers of the Kemetic religion, which were chanted in every temple every day in ancient times.  They are part of the devotional and energetic legacy handed down to us from the Ancestors of our tradition, so to speak these prayers today is to connect the actions of the present with the holiness of the past; and in Kemeticism, the past is part of an ongoing cycle of divine repetition flowing from Zep Tepy, the “First Occasion” immediately following the creation of the ordered world.

Prayer can be very formal and very solemn, a means of bringing my mind and consciousness into that space of resonance with the Gods, which I feel is essential in the modern world where we are so often asked to step away from any feelings of solidarity with the Sacred, with mindfulness on the realm of stillness and power that is the dwelling place of the Gods.  It’s so easy to get caught up in the problems and momentum of our daily lives and lose our grounding in the Sacred, especially those of us serving very ancient Ancestral traditions and paths.  So, my view of prayer is that it can be that tool for stopping everything and bringing ourselves back to the center of our holy practices.  Through the vocalization or silence induced by prayer, we step back into the Sacred moment, imbuing the present moment with the immediate presences of our Gods.  

These moments of devotion are- for me- what nourishes Polytheism and makes it the richest expression of religion.  Our ancient Polytheisms are rooted in communion with legions of deities and Ancestors Who are accessible to us at any time, and prayer is the instrument by which we ask our Holy Powers to step into our sphere of life and fill it with Their essence.  There’s such an awe-inspiring strength in this; speaking directly to our Gods and Ancestors and sharing a dialogue with Them that gives meaning to every moment of our lives.

I think one of the reasons you asked me this question is because of the push back against prayer that is part of a larger debate concerning the essential meaning of Polytheism and its relationship with its Gods.  Enter our ever-present burden of baggage from monotheism.  Those of us who grew up under the influence of evangelical strains of Christianity have a rather different and sinister experience with prayer that has nothing whatsoever to do with devotion.  How many readers have been told by a Christian relative or acquaintance “I’ll pray for you” or “I’m praying for you”?  We all know what I’m talking about here, and it’s not the kind of concern that prompts someone to sincerely pray to their deity on your behalf.  This is the kind of statement evangelicals often make when condescending and talking down to those they view as sinners, and it’s an act that implies the superiority of their god and religious system above those they are trying to “help”- or rather convert to their way of thinking.  For many Polytheists today, prayer is a dirty word, a word that carries with it an instant gut reaction of “no!”, and is synonymous with control.  For many, prayer is a tool of abuse wielded by the Christian dogma they are desperately trying to escape, and it’s a very difficult process to transform the meaning of that word into something wholesome, let alone something that comes natural.

Something I feel is vital- if we are to succeed as individual Polytheists and as communities- is for us to make a concerted effort to reclaim our Ancestral traditions and practices from the oppressive hand of monotheism, and this means taking back words, too, and refusing to sacrifice vital spiritual meaning because of associations with systems of belief we’ve experienced as being destructive.  We have to take back the concept and action of prayer, if not the very word itself; because in essence prayer is the action of communicating directly with our Gods, and is an active ingredient in the foundation of cultus and praxis, these two essential components of living the Polytheist life today.  All our ancient Polytheisms use prayer in conjunction with offering and sacrifice; Polytheism is inseparable from these activities, and, from my perspective, there is no Polytheism without the three roots of prayer, offering, and sacrifice.  Polytheism is a living religious system grounded firmly in the worship of many gods, and it is the Gods Who give us our spiritual life cupped by the physical life in which the Spirit dwells.  Our physical and spiritual lives are two sides of the same coin, and they are joined together through the marriage of belief and practice.  How else can we practice, establish praxis and cultus, without addressing our Gods directly?  And how else can we address our Gods if not through the medium of prayer, which itself is a form of offering and personal sacrifice?

So, I want to encourage people to reexamine their fears or dislike of prayer, and to see prayer very differently from the agent of control that so many of us have experienced at the hands of evangelicals.  The action of prayer predates the advent of monotheism by millennia.  Our Ancestors used it as a tool of direct communication with Their Gods, to consecrate Their physical lives to the Gods, and to invoke the Holy Powers into the material world.  We are following in Their footsteps, and we need Their guidance and empowerment if our reestablishment of Polytheism is to succeed.  Prayer is and can be that binding thread between our current lives and the ever-present sacral past inhabited by our Ancestors.  Prayer is and can be that source of divine inspiration that never runs dry or fails to revitalize; but, like anything, it takes work in order to make it grow and flourish.  The effort has to come from us, and our Gods and Ancestors will never cease to meet us half way if our effort is sincere in the things we do for Them.

 GK:  You’re also an accomplished poet. Do you feel that there is a unique connection between the Gods, devotion, and practice of the arts? If so, please elaborate.

Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa:  For me, the practice of the arts is, quite literally, the practice of my religion, and is a direct extension of my priesthood and the expression of my spiritual life.  Since my namesake and patron deity is Lord Ptah, the consummate Creator and craftsman of the Gods, it so follows that the worship of the hands carries with it the Heka or Magick of my Netjer, Who created the very acts of sculpting, painting, and poetic expression.  It is said of Lord Ptah that He created the Gods and all living things through the profession of words, which are His craft and carry with them the magic through which all created things came into being.

When I sit down to write my verses or engage in the holy craft of iconography, I am, in fact, engaging in powerful acts of worship that are- in a manner of speaking- emulating the divine and creative acts of the God Ptah.  I am taking on myself the role of Lord Ptah, Whose actions and words wove the substance of the cosmos and gave breath to the Gods.  The Ancestors of my tradition used hymns and poetry to celebrate the moment of the Daily Ritual offered by the cult of each god, and married to these holy words is the premise that words on their own contain the vibrational potency of the creative act.  The ancient hymns are often complex poems containing elaborate descriptions of a deity’s names, epithets, and physical characteristics, which were echoed in the exquisitely wrought images of the cult in which the deity’s spiritual essence resided.  The ancient temples were themselves massive pieces of sacred art, for lack of a better word; but these expressions of art were manifestations of the impersonal Sacred, not the ego of an individual artist.  The Ancients saw all man-made artistic forms as carrying the potential for an inner divine life to grow, and when these forms were married to the ritual activities of the cult, they actually became the Gods resident in terrestrial matter.

Aside from my vocation as an iconographer, it is through poetry that I express my longing to see and experience the Gods directly.  Writing sacred verses forms part of my daily practice of prayer and offering, since my verses are being given to the Gods as an aspect of veneration.  The process of writing itself is an activity of profound meditation on the Gods, because it requires me to remove myself from the surroundings of the mundane world and enter into a frame of mind where the Gods hold sway and are the predominant reality.  The result of these sessions is a form of religious ecstasy expressed in words, which can then be absorbed by others who desire to enter into the spiritual ethos.

It almost goes without saying that I believe all the arts can bring us closer to our Gods, and can be the springboard for achieving that ultimate relationship where our Gods are revealed as a physical, tangible reality in our daily life, instead of remaining abstract or distant.  We are raised in a society where the pervasive monotheistic perspective is one of the separation of the Divine from the physical world of humankind.  Christianity especially has given us an intellectual legacy of seeing the world of sight and senses as clearly divided from the ultimate blessing of the Sacred; it teaches the fall of humankind from god.  But our ancient Polytheisms urge us into a very different understanding of the Holy Powers, one in which the Gods work directly through matter, the natural world, and the senses of the human condition.  Neither nature or the world of the flesh have fallen away from the Divine, but have instead emerged from it, and are married to the Gods through a reciprocal relationship of give and take.  It is through the arts- through painting, sculpture, poetry, music, and dance- that our senses and intellect are elevated and refined, and ripen into a deeper, more mystical consciousness of what it means to be human.  The arts can unite us with our higher selves, and, at the same time, remove us from ourselves and into the presences of the living Gods.

 GK:  What projects do you currently have in the works and where can people find your work?

Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa:  I am currently working on a new series of smaller icon panels I am calling the Aegis Series.  These are more like *portraits* of the Kemetic Gods, whose purpose- aside from being the recipients of devotion and active cultus- is to serve as focal points for prayer and meditation on the Netjeru as personal protectors.  So, these icons are magical images linking devotees with aspects of the Gods specifically attuned to healing, personal safety, defense from diseases or external enemies, fertility and creation, et cetera.  Their main source of iconographic inspiration are the images of the head and shoulders, crown and regalia of the Gods seen on the prow and stern of the sacred boat-shrines carried in religious festivals, or worn as protective amulets.

Something I am very excited about is the idea to use the Aegis Series, together with my other icons, in a full color devotional art book being conceived by myself and Her Holiness Rev. Tamara Siuda (AUS), Nisut of the Kemetic Orthodox Faith.  Tamara approached me with an inspiration she had had to compose guided meditations for each of my icons, which would lead devotees through the symbolism and sacred meanings resident in my icons.  Her feeling is that people should experience my work not only through its aesthetic or artistic qualities, but more importantly from the perspective of going inward to meet the Gods directly, and thereby receive Their wisdom.  Her idea for the guided meditations will be paired with prayers and hymns and other devotional writings that will serve Kemetics, devotional Polytheists, and students of sacred art in their desire to understand this vibrant spiritual tradition of cult images, and experience it through the lens of its initiatory symbols.

Secondly, I’ve just finished editing my new book “Sacred Verses:  Entering the Labyrinth of the Gods”, which will be published by Asphodel Press in the near future.  I consider Sacred Verses some of the best writing of my life, and it’s certainly my most profound exploration of devotional poetry to date.  Interestingly enough, it is not entirely Kemetic in its tone or use of language, and is meant to be an experience of poetic initiation into the realm of recovering our Polytheistic memory.  The premise I have is that if we go back far enough into our family tree, we will reach the time in human history when the civilizations of humankind were Polytheistic; and it is this process of reaching back, of journeying through the sacred tree of spiritual memory, that Sacred Verses presents to its readers.  It gives us a set of keys for setting aside the paradigm of monotheism, and returning to our original and ancient spiritual traditions- which of course are those of Polytheism.

 Interested readers will be able to find my work via the following links:

Official Icons of Kemet website

Official Icons of Kemet blog

Sacred poetry and verse blog

Kemetically Speaking blog

Kemetic deities prayer cards

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Be sure to check out my other sites:

Wyrd Curiosities at Etsy

My academia.edu page

My amazon author page.

Walking the Worlds Journal

My art blog at Krasskova Creations

My blog about all things strange, weird and medieval.

And if you like what you see, consider becoming a sponsor at Patreon.

Interview in Wild Hunt with Markos Gage

Check out this awesome interview at Wild Hunt with Markos Gage. He’s an awesome artist. His work is beautiful and at times mind-blowing. He and his partner Wayne have created several of the beautiful icons that I’ve turned into prayer cards. (He takes commissions, folks). Making art is a sacred thing, all the more so when it’s done directly and mindfully for the Gods. Check out the interview. I might have asked other questions, but overall, it’s pretty good and you get to see lots of pictures of Markos and his art. 

Polytheistic Voices: Interview with Kenaz Filan

kenaz portraitI’ve known Kenaz for years so it was a pleasure doing this interview recently for this series. Like me, Kenaz straddles the line between two polytheistic traditions: Voudoun and the Northern Tradition. The Gods do send us down some interesting roads. He’s written several books including “The Power of the Poppy,” and (with Raven Kaldera) “Dealing with Deities,” and “Drawing Down the Spirits.” Thank you, Kenaz for agreeing to participate in this interview.

GK: Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you come to polytheism?

Kenaz: I was interested in magic and the occult for as long as I can remember. From my early 20s onward I was involved in Ceremonial Magic and Neopaganism. Because I have also long felt an affinity for darker Cthonic energies I became involved in Satanism and Goetia. Had I been born 30 years earlier I’d be what the kids today call an “Edgelord.” I found Chaos Magic thought-provoking at times and loved the intellectual aesthetic of Ceremonial Magic – but I never felt comfortable reducing the Gods to thought-forms, archetypes or things that only existed between my ears. I always knew there was Something Else there and that They were worthy of worship. I also never bought into the idea of a Golden Age when the Gods walked among us. I felt like They were as present now as They were 10,000 years ago and that They still had an interest in us: They did not cease to exist when we stopped worshipping them any more than a rock disappears when you turn your head.

While I have always felt compassion for the poor and disempowered I have never been particularly egalitarian. An important part of our American psyche is that all men are created equal before the law. There has been considerable debate about what that means. For me it means whatever your social class or lifestyle choices all citizens should be given a chance to achieve to the best of their abilities; that all accused of a crime deserved a fair trial before an impartial jury; that all should be treated with respect and courtesy until they prove undeserving of same. (I understand that we rarely live up to these tenets, but that reflects more poorly on us than them). But I also understood that people were not equal. Strength, intelligence, skill, passion, piety – these things were not evenly distributed among humanity. Neither did I have a problem that there were some people who were Called (had a Vocation in the language of my Roman Catholic youth) to the Priesthood while others served the Divine by living their lives honorably and doing your duty to your family, your community and your Gods.

In 1994 I had a psychotic break that left me homeless on the streets of Manhattan for several months. During that time I made contact with a spirit that called Himself “Legba” and who told me, among other things, that I would become a Vodou initiate. At the time I thought this impossible: in March 2003 I was initiated as Houngan Coquille du Mer in Societe la Belle Venus #2 of Brooklyn, New York by Mambo Azan Taye (Edeline St-Amand) and Houngan Si Gan Temps (Hugue Pierre). Since then I have continued to serve the lwa and much of what I have learned in Vodou has influenced my way of dealing with my ancestral Gods. Then, in 2004 Loki showed up and, unsurprisingly, things got very … interesting.

One of the defining moments in the modern Polytheistic revival was Kenny Klein’s arrest on child pornography charges. The Pagan community’s response to that left me – and just about everybody else in the community who identified as a Polytheist – furious and disgusted. I realized then that contemporary Neopaganism’s atheism and relativism were fatal flaws which have real world consequences. I ceased to identify in any way as part of the Neopagan community and began calling myself a Polytheist – and many other Polytheists did the same thing. Today’s Polytheism shares very little with modern Neopaganism: we certainly don’t share our Gods. I’d say we have become a different religious tradition but it’s more accurate to say that we have become a religious tradition since what they are doing owes more to psychotherapy than theology.

GK: You’ve been a staunch defender of Loki over the years (something that I particularly appreciate). Can you tell me a little bit about your devotional relationship with HIm?

Kenaz: My first experience with Loki started as a meditation on Freyja as I attempted Seidhr: instead of finding myself in the presence of Freyja I found myself in the cave. Since that time Loki has been a constant presence in my life. I followed His instructions when he told me to live for several years as a woman. I believed Him when He told me that I would have a child even though the hormones should have rendered that impossible. And in return Loki has brought nothing but blessings into my life, including the greatest gift of all – my daughter, Annamaria Sigyn Estelle Filan. I am eternally in His debt: speaking up on His behalf when he is wronged is the least I can do to acknowledge all He has done for me.

Most Loki-detractors make several fundamental errors about the nature of pre-Christian practices in northern Europe. The idea of “Lore” owes more to Protestant sola scriptura than to tradition. It prioritizes the work of Snorri Sturluson, an Icelandic Christian, over the disparate practices of a region which stretched from northern Scandinavia to the banks of the Volga River. It gives the Eddas a Scriptural authority which Sturluson never intended: it also anachronistically applies the Manichean “Good/Evil” axis to traditions which (unlike Christianity) were never touched by Manicheanism or by any other Gnostic tradition. There were certainly evil wights and evil men in the myths of northern Europe. The Gods could be benevolent, hostile or some combination thereof depending on the situation. But there was no idea of an elemental Evil or of an infernal Adversary eternally warring with the Divine and with humanity: Loki was never a “Nordic Satan” any more than Odin became a “Nordic Christ” because he hung on Yggdrasil.

I identify Loki with Lóður and with the force which makes the blood flow and which animates our world. I believe there may also be some cognate between “Lok” and the low German gelücke from whence our word “luck” derives. I don’t think it is a huge stretch to identify Loki with a generally benevolent but unpredictable bringer of blessings and good fortune. And given how Loki appears in almost every story preserved in the Eddas, I think He was a major God within the traditions of northern Europe. I also think His binding is one of the major myths of our Lokean tradition. His long agony on the rock and the eternal fidelity of His wife Sigyn are powerful if painful foci for meditation and contemplation. And while it sometimes seems that for every step forward we take a dozen steps back into Lokiswives of Tumblr, I am confident that we are seeing the birth of a Loki cultus which will survive and thrive long after we are gone.

GK: Late 2016 you started the rather controversial website polytheism uncucked. What prompted that? What is it’s focus? What do you intend /hope to accomplish here?

Kenaz: Polytheism Uncucked started out with tongue firmly in cheek. After Rhyd Wildemuth declared that Paganism was under attack from the shadowy forces of the Alternative Right, I figured I might as well be the devil they claimed me to be. But as I continued studying I began to understand that I am the product of European culture and a child of the European Diaspora. I realized that to honor the Gods of Europe I needed to protect my ancestral European homeland and my European brothers and sisters. And so I began talking about impolite topics like the Islamization of Europe and the plight of poor White America. I began speaking out against AntiFa thuggery and pointing out the deleterious effects of Postmodernism and Cultural Marxism on our art, culture and interpersonal relationships. Which means, at least to some people, that I became the worst sort of racist. (Insert pearl-clutching here).

Parenthood also played a major role in my “Dark Enlightenment,” “Redpilling,” or political development as you prefer. We live in a working -class area of Newark where we are an ethnic minority. We have never experienced any problems and our Black and Latino neighbors have never been anything but kind and helpful. But when they look at us they see White people: our roots and our culture share many commonalities, but there are also many differences. And so I began wondering what it meant to be White for us and for Annamaria, and realized White was something more than an absence of Color.

Necessity and desire drove our ancestors from their homes: history transformed them into White Americans. We are the European diaspora; we are Europa’s children; we are part of a process that was ancient when the first English settlers landed on Plymouth Rock and part of a people who are committing demographic and literal suicide. Those who came before us may have done great evil but they also did great good. We have lessons to learn from their triumphs as well as from their mistakes. And in any event we have a responsibility to honor our ancestors not because they were good or because they were triumphant but because they are our ancestors.

Vodou, Lukumi and other African Diaspora traditions preserved African religious traditions through the horrors of the Middle Passage and slavery. I believe folkish Heathenry is one means by which we can honor our European Gods and work to preserve our European identity and our European culture. This has nothing to do with disparaging the ancestry of others: it is, rather, about honoring our own. “Woke” Black people and White people have a great deal in common. Both wish to preserve their culture; both place enormous importance in the family and community; both know their people face enormous challenges like poverty, unemployment, violence and despair; both believe the solution to their communities’ problems will only be found within their communities; both believe a spiritual awakening is a necessary precedent to any material improvements. The answers to our problems lie not in eternal conflict and hatred but in mutual respect. “Different” does not have to mean hostile.

GK: Now how do you balance working in two traditions (I do as well): Norse and Voudou?

Kenaz: Vodou is the central pillar of my practice: I use so much of what I learned about approaching the Lwa in my service to Europa’s Gods. My wife (also a Mambo) and I have both had the maryaj lwa: we abstain from sex on Tuesday through Thursday in honor of our divine Spouses (Ezili Freda and Danto for me: Ogou, Damballah and Zaka for her). We have shrines for the Rada, Petwo and Ghede in our home: we have Legba standing at the door to protect us from evil and bring in blessings. I have refrained from writing publicly about Vodou for some time, but that is only because I wanted to make space for Haitians to document their own faith. Right now there are several open Haitian houses were people can be initiated and learn how to serve their lwa: Haitian and Haitian-American artists and academics like Hersza Barjon, Claudine Michel and Patrick Bellegarde-Smith are writing books on the subject. I have 15 years as a Houngan: these people were raised in the culture and have far more to teach than I do. My services in that arena are no longer required: there are better people out there for the task.

By contrast, the contemporary Polytheist movement is in its infancy. We are still building that community and defining what it means to be a Polytheist. (See the ongoing flap about “archetypal Polytheists,” otherwise known as “Neopagans who want to call themselves Polytheists”). I am focusing my attention there for now as I feel that is where it is most needed. There is an enormous hunger for the Gods in our culture, a burning desire for something more meaningful than hollow materialism and blind nihilism. We are a society riddled with impietas: our relationships with our Gods, our communities, our families and ourselves have all gone off the true. The center no longer holds and things are falling apart.

Our only chance is to establish islands of piety amidst the spiritual pollution and to work to right those imbalances – to re-establish what the Romans called pietas. I believe that when we do that we will discover there are many others who are seeking desperately for what only the Gods can give them. Make a fitting place for the Gods and fitting priests who serve Them properly and They will do the rest. That is the public task to which I have set myself: to lead Europa’s children back to Europa’s Gods.

GK: what advice would you give newcomers to polytheism?

Kenaz: The Gods are many, the Gods are real, the Gods are here. Everything else flows from that.

Many people will tell you that you are crazy, that you are delusional, that you are taking this too seriously. This includes many people who claim to be serving the Gods but who are really engaging in psychodrama or in an elaborate live-action roleplaying game. Real piety terrifies them: it implies the Gods they use for window dressing might be real, and might make real demands of them. Their input is less than useless and should be ignored.

This is not a contest. Ordeal workers, horses and Godspouses are neither better Polytheists nor better people simply by their office. The most important task facing every Polytheist is to honor the Gods and to live a life befitting Their worshippers. A sincere prayer offered in gratitude is a greater gift to Them than an agonizing Ordeal performed only to impress the crowd. Ask what the Gods want you to do, then do it. Sigyn assuages Loki’s pain with a battered bowl: your simple life and your humble tools may do greater service for the Gods than you could ever imagine. Live for the Gods and you will live a Godly life.

I have heard many variants of the question “so what does a Spirit-Worker get out of this?” The answer is simple: you get to live your life in the constant and knowing presence of the Gods. There is no greater reward.

GK: What do you consider the most important elements of praxis?

Kenaz: Repetition is very important. The ancient world set its calender by seasons of worship. When you establish a regular cycle of service for your Gods, you create an axis around which your world can revolve. Your “mundane” tasks – I put that in quotes because in Polytheism there are no mundane tasks: every word, deed and thing is infused with the Gods – become part of your ongoing encounter with the Divine. Serve the Gods even when you don’t feel like it, even when you don’t see the point, even when you doubt Their very existence. In time you will internalize this service and it will become second nature to you: you will know Their presence in your heart and in your bones.

GK: There’s an old Russian saying that “repetition is the mother of learning” and I have certainly found that true, most especially in spiritual work.

Kenaz: Cleansing is vital. We live in a society that is full of miasma, where piety is conflated with fanaticism and delusion, where blasphemy is lauded and reverence is scorned. If we don’t cleanse ourselves from that spiritual sewage we will inevitably choke on it. I start and end my day by washing my head, breast, solar plexus, genitals and feet and praying that the Gods may take away that which pollutes me: I would recommend that every Polytheist do something similar. When you start doing this you will become increasingly aware of miasma and be able to either avoid or deal with it as the situation warrants.

Understand that your life is an ongoing prayer. The Christians who ask”What Would Jesus Do?” are onto something. When you live in the constant presence of the Gods you find yourself asking how They might feel about a particular course of action. This is not the “super friends” relationship you see in too much Tumblr spirituality – the kind where Loki is a whacky neighbor and Odin trades off with Dr. Who in telling you about your Important Cosmic Destiny. Rather it is the knowledge that you stand before the Creators and Shapers of Being and the deep understanding of how you should carry yourself before Them. Colored by this understanding, your life and your spiritual practice cannot help but move toward greater piety and balance.

GK: What projects do you currently have in the works?

Kenaz: I continue to work on Polytheism Uncucked and am toying with the idea of writing Europa’s Children: Toward a White American Polytheism. I would like to create a framework whereby Europa’s children can honor Europa’s Gods and recognize their role and responsibility as members of the European Diaspora. I would also like to see an American cultus which would allow Americans of all faiths, ethnicities and political leanings to honor the American spirit and America’s gods in the same way citizens of the Roman Empire venerated the Gods of Rome and the Roman government. And I continue in the most important project of all – raising Annamaria to be a happy and healthy child and teaching her to serve and honor our Gods.

GK: thank you, Kenaz. Folks interested in reading more of Kenaz’s work can check out his two blogs here and here.

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Be sure to check out my other sites:

Wyrd Curiosities at Etsy

My academia.edu page

My amazon author page.

Walking the Worlds Journal

My art blog at Krasskova Creations

My blog about all things strange, weird and medieval.

And if you like what you see, consider becoming a sponsor at Patreon.