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Prioritizing the Gods

On the way to the post this morning I drove by the local Presbyterian Church. They have a sign out front that they change regularly and it usually includes some pithy saying or tagline to draw one in. Today their sign caught my eye because of what it said: ‘Making God’s priorities your priorities.’ I thought, “Yep. That about covers the most difficult part of growing in devotion.” Since I was still thinking about that as I got home, I decided to write a bit about it here.

I’ve always maintained that it’s not enough to just believe in the Gods. In the end, it’s not even enough to venerate Them. As with ancestor practice, polytheism is something that should become the lens through which every part of one’s life, every interaction is filtered. The awareness of the Gods and spirits changes everything, should change everything, most especially how we stand in relationship to Them and to our entire world. It requires re-evaluating our goals, our values, our priorities and considering whether or not these things are in proper alignment with our devotion to our Gods and with what our Gods desire. Often it involves getting ourselves out of the way (more on that in a bit). That, I think, is the place where most people balk.

It’s easy to think that devotion is all about feeling the presence of the Gods. Maybe one is particularly gifted and can hear or even see Them. I won’t deny that the capacity to experience the Gods directly is a tremendous grace but, those things are in the end unimportant and focusing on them too much can be a powerful distraction to actual devotion, especially when they are sought or embraced without even a hint of discernment. If our devotion is predicated on seeing, hearing, or feeling the Gods what happens when we can’t do that? What happens when we’re in a dark place, a dark night of the soul, or going through some type of emotional upset that has impacted our discernment? What happens when feeling or seeing or hearing is not forthcoming? Does our devotion go away? Moreover, demanding that we have that feedback every single time we make an offering or prayer is putting the Gods on our timetable, holding Them hostage, subordinating Them to our whims and our needs. It is a violation of the hierarchy of being of which the Gods are part. They are Gods after all, not our invisible friends (for all that They may care for us, nurture us, and engage in a friendly, loving manner with us at times). It prioritizes our desires over what is good and right and proper: maintaining right relationship with the Powers. It reduces the Gods to playthings and elevates us in Their place.

This is where getting ourselves out of the way comes in. I strongly believe that we are deeply loved by our Gods. I think that They want the best for us in all possible worlds. I also think that our own world is poisoned and out of balance and our wants and desires, our egos and hungers have been shaped by that lack of balance. We’ve been taught to value things that are detrimental to our spiritual life. We’ve been raised by virtue of the culture in which we live to prioritize things that are not in alignment with the goals the Gods have for us and that are certainly not in alignment with any developed and authentic spiritual expression. When the time comes to raise ourselves up, to curb the corruption or atrophy of our very souls, when the time comes to change, to move beyond the immediate reinforcement of seeing or feeling, we balk. Sometimes we run like hell. Sometimes we throw tantrums and immerse ourselves even more in those things that are spiritually detrimental.

I’m prepping a paper right now on pop culture and religion for an academic conference and anyone who reads this blog knows that I’m not a fan of combining the two. In fact, I think that absorbing pop culture uncritically can have devastating consequences on our spiritual sense. The problem isn’t, believe it or not, pop culture itself. Pop culture has existed as long as we have possessed the ability to craft and convey stories. In the ancient world, Homer might have been considered ‘pop culture.’ Certainly, later philosophers challenged the Homeric corpus (at least the Iliad and Odyssey) on the grounds that they presented the Gods and heroes impiously. The problem is less the stories we tell than the context in which they’re told. In other words, the problem is our over-culture. In the ancient world, you had a culture steeped in polytheism. Not having yet had the dubious benefit of modernity and the ‘Enlightenment,’ devotion and piety were not yet positioned culturally as primitive, foolish, or potential mental illness. The culture itself was steeped in religion in a way that allowed for the inter-generational transmission of piety and these things countered any potential harm from the pop culture of the time. Even those who may have had a paucity of actual faith were encouraged by the philosophers of their time, by their culture, by their traditions to attend to the proper rituals and otherwise behave themselves. We don’t have that.

What we have instead is a culture that encourages us to prioritize the shallowest aspects of our lives, that encourages us to treat the Gods as errant children, that encourages us to behave, in effect, with gross (though usually ignorant) impiety. We have a culture that encourages anything but deep devotion, and that certainly doesn’t respect any intergenerational transmission of tradition. This complicates the process of opening ourselves up to the Gods. It complicates our growing in faith and spiritual awareness and it complicates us growing into fully developed human beings, human beings in right relationship with our Gods and dead.

Does all of this mean we should never expose ourselves to popular culture? Maybe. If your idea of a good night’s television is the Kardashians please try to develop your tastes a little. But maybe it means that we approach the popular culture that we imbibe critically, with eyes open, aware that it carries with it seeds that could blossom into gross impiety and ugliness in our souls. It’s an opportunity to have conversations, to challenge ourselves and the culture in which we were raised to reconsider and to do better. There are times where I will leave a movie or turn off a particular television show, even if I’m enjoying it, because I don’t want to give that level of pollution space in my head. I don’t want it to take up real estate that would otherwise become fertile ground for devotion. I want the seeds of that devotion to grow in rich, clean soil. Then there are times where I’ll watch anyway, but make offerings and cleanse afterwards, and maybe discuss with whomever else was present why it was problematic, even though it might have been enjoyable as hell. It depends. I think we’re called to do this not just with pop culture but with our culture assumptions, our values, the foundation of our morality, our goals, priorities, and everything in our world. We are called to consider everything.

It is a challenge to allow ourselves to be reshaped from the inside out by our piety rather than to attempt reshaping our piety to suit our undeveloped souls. We may not know all the time what our Gods want, but we can do those things that make us receptive to finding out. We can immerse ourselves in those practices that help us develop deeper piety, deeper devotion. We can accept that this process of doing devotion well is going to have its ups and downs, its fallow periods and its periods of deep insight and communion, and that it will, if done rightly, change everything about how we view our world, how we position ourselves in it, and ultimately how we will set ourselves to changing it.

So yes, I think devotion ultimately does come down to cultivating love of the Gods, cultivating a hunger to approach Them in our hearts, to making offerings and doing rituals but above all else, to allowing ourselves to be changed by the process of devotion, to allow ourselves to be transformed, and to a willingness to critically examine every single premise with which we’ve been raised, and every single thing our world tells us most especially in relation to our Gods, but not just there. And if the idea of aligning our own priorities with those of the Gods evokes resentment or anger, then maybe the place to start is in considering why.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Libertas

I was reading a novel a few days ago and came across a line from Seneca “deo parere libertas est” – to serve/devote oneself to a God is freedom. I was so intensely struck by the sentiment that I’ve been mulling it over since I first read it. Certainly, it is a sentiment that I agree with wholeheartedly. I’d just never quite heard it phrased so succinctly.

Devotional living can be hard. Coming into alignment with our Gods and ancestors and nourishing those relationships (which is part and parcel of restoring the ancient covenants with Gods, ancestors, and land) carries with it the challenge of reorienting our priorities, changing the way we look at the world, at everything, and it often involves a certain degree of loss. Actually, I think sometimes it involves a huge degree of loss. It’s difficult, really, really difficult because it changes everything in our world. Doing devotional work well changes the way we are in our world, the way we position ourselves in relation to everything. Yes, I strongly believe that the Gods more than meet us half way, walk with us as we struggle, but that doesn’t make devotional work any less grueling.

I remember once my adopted mom was discussing ‘love.’ She was very much against any abstract, grand, or romantic definitions. She said, “you know what love is? It’s rolling up your sleeves and getting to work.” She compared it to a parent changing a baby’s dirty diaper when completely exhausted and I rather agree with her. St. Augustine (I’m not a fan, but he was right on this particular point) said that “my love is my weight,” meaning that his love for his God motivated him to make changes to who he was and to whom he wanted to become.  If we look at devotion as the cultivation of a deep hunger and longing for God, the cultivation and its fruition, then it’s the work of tending that fire of longing, while at the same time of seeking endlessly to sate that hunger. St. Benedict (I’m taking a class in early Christianity so we’re reading Benedict now) gave us the famous dictum: “Ora et Labora” (pray and work). Until recently I’ve always interpreted the ‘labora’ part of that saying to refer to manual labor (which monks would routinely engage in not only to support themselves but as a spiritual discipline) but more and more I am beginning think that it may be a bit more metaphysical, that Benedict was referring to the intense and painful spiritual labor of opening ourselves up to our Gods. Devotional work takes humility and vulnerability, a level of radical honesty not only with our Holy Powers but with ourselves too, most especially with ourselves and well, it can be pretty awful at times. There are reasons why Christian writers wrote that it was a “terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Well, it can be, because afterwards nothing is ever the same again.

Sometimes it’s the very longing for connection to the Gods that hurts the most. It’s fire in the soul, a goad to the heart. It’s a thing that gives no peace. I once quipped that I hadn’t had a single comfortable day since I became a devout woman (I’m exaggerating, because there is deep joy and satisfaction in the devotional life as well, but not by much). That longing is so crucial. We can numb ourselves to it. So much in our world encourages us to numb ourselves to it but if we do that, then getting through the really difficult times, the proverbial dark nights of the soul is that much harder. In the nadir of our spiritual world, it’s sometimes longing that carries us through. It’s certainly longing that encourages us to do the work that helps ensure good spiritual discernment. If we are longing for our Gods after all, why would we settle for anything less? Someone recently posted in a comment to one of my previous blog posts that the Latin word cultus, referring to all the rites and rituals and devotional practices of tending to a particular Deity, is directly related to the word meaning ‘to cultivate, or to tend’ and that is linguistically correct. To pay cultus to a God is to be in a state of having tended to that God and one’s relationship with Him or Her properly. The word itself calls to mind the work of tending a field, the hard, manual labor of a farmer minding his crops – work that paid off with the means to nourish a family or community. It implies a great deal of consistent labor. It’s the same with devotional work, that likewise pays off in the micro-verse of our souls, of our character, of the formation of our hearts and minds.  

Getting back to Seneca though, I agree with him. There is immense freedom in consciously, passionately serving a God. It’s not just the satisfaction of being in right relationship with the Holy Powers, but also of acknowledging that when we are in that relationship, so much falls into place on every possible level. When we are given over consciously and mindfully to the Powers that shaped our world, that wove our fate, that nurtured our ancestors, that breathed life into our beings, with that comes a soul deep purpose. It elevates us as human beings. Likewise, we have tremendous free will within our devotional worlds. All things being equal we have the choice of doing this work gracefully. We can cultivate in ourselves those things that cultivate our connection to our Gods, or we can behave like petulant little bitches (and believe me, we all go down this route occasionally). The work of devotion is ultimately that which allows us to experience our Gods directly. It allows us to align our priorities and wills with Theirs. It allows us joy. It places the world in order and us in order within that world, and if we are in alignment with our Gods, then all else is commentary. If we are in alignment with our Gods then They are in alignment with us, and we have the benefit of Their blessing and protection as active, moving forces in our lives.

All of this leads me to the question of what makes one a good person. What does it mean to be an adult and a polytheist and what are the virtues that we should be attempting to cultivate? It’s not as easy a question as one might think given that the answer will vary mightily depending on the Gods we venerate. What Odin wishes cultivated in His devotees is very different in many respects from what Dionysos or Inanna might wish. It leads me to the conflict I see playing out in our communities every day, namely whether humanity or the Gods should take priority in our consciousness. But if we are not serving the Gods well, if we are not in right relationship with Them, then how can we possibly hope to be so with the people in our lives, or with humanity in general? If we cannot order this, the most essential of relationships rightly, then how can we hope to do so with the smaller, yet also important ones?

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.

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  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 

 

 

 

The Mirror of the Gods

This was the companion piece to an article I shared here. They’re older pieces, originally written a couple of years ago, but they’re relevant to some of the client work I’ve been doing lately so I’m sharing them again. 

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Last week in my medieval studies class, we were reading Bonaventure’s “Journey of the Soul into God.” It’s one of the first places where I’ve seen mysticism unhesitatingly defined as direct experience with a God, so it immediately piqued my interest because of that. We spent a very enjoyable class discussing the text itself, specifically its structure. It seems on the surface like such an arid philosophical treatise but reading through it, it’s written stylistically as anything but. Bonaventure uses various rhetorical strategies to evoke enthusiasm and experience in his readers, and lush language, sensual motifs that make this a rich and rewarding read, even for a polytheist.

My interest is less in Bonaventure’s Christianity, than in the rather Pythagorean worldview he espouses at one point in his narrative. He’s working from Augustine’s ‘de Musica,’ which in turn draws heavily on Aristotle’s “Poetics.” (So really, if a Christian can be inspired by a polytheist text, than that rubric can surely work in reverse!). By this point in the text (2.10), he’s already been writing about his God as a divine Artificer in ways that echo elements of Plato’s “Timaeus.” After expounding for a bit on how every sensation is an experience of God, and that part of the structure of knowing is taking delight in the presence of God, not as a rarified experience but as something open and available to everyone, he starts talking about numbers.

Now, I’m not a maths person. Having dyscalculia, I struggled all my school life to acquire basic math skills and while I can handle measurements for cooking, balance a checkbook, and understand compound interest, that’s about as far as it goes with respect to my math functionality. So when I first got to this discussion of numbers, I groaned inwardly and prepared to skim it as quickly as possible. Then I actually read what Bonaventure was saying though, and especially after our class discussion, I was floored. It opened up a way of connecting to my Gods that I’d never, ever considered (or if i had ever considered it, I’d assumed it was forever closed to me because of my poor math skills).

Basically, Bonaventure posits that the harmony, balance, proportion, ratio, and math of the universe, the cosmic order and structure itself is both a means to know “God” but also that the entire cosmic order, the deep structure of all that is exists in the mind of God. Think about that for a moment. The unfolding, interlocking order of creation exists in the minds of Gods, in the shared consciousness of the Divine Assembly, or in the mind of the God or Gods who functions as the architect of the universe. We exist not separate and apart from our Gods, but held within Them. I do not quite know how to express how profound I found this. I’m still pondering it, chewing on it. I have a deep emotional response to this idea of numbers as a vestige, a trace we can follow to our Gods.

It’s a complete shift in consciousness to look at not just the natural world, but it’s order, structure — the science of the thing—as a reflection of the Gods. I think one of the most traumatic things that monotheism accomplished was setting us apart not only from the nature world, our world full of Gods as the philosopher Thales put it, but separating us from any sense of connection to the Gods. There’s such a tremendous disconnect inherent in the monotheistic worldview with its emphasis on separation, sin, and salvation. I think the Christian mystics or mystic-influenced writers like Bonaventure tried to counter this but sadly stood in the minority.

I talked to my friend Edward Butler about this philosophy of numbers, as it were, (because I am in no way a philosopher and often need advice in navigating the more philosophical concepts) and he told me that this idea that we are *in* the Gods, that there is nothing outside of Them is a core Platonic concept and the fact that “the cosmos can be grasped through mathematics is considered by Platonists to be one of the prime expressions” (if you’ll pardon the pun), “of the divine presence throughout the cosmos, and mathematics is equal to philosophy as a mode of cognizing the operations of the Gods, which is to say, cognizing everything, since Being Itself is the Gods’ work.” (2)

Isn’t that just astounding? Go outside and look at the light filtering through the leaves of trees and the Gods are there. The patterns of snowflakes reflect Divine cognition and care, (it’s snowing where I live right now and recognizing this makes it more endurable lol). The way things grow, the organic structure of everything all reflects the Gods directly. The cycle of seasons, that it’s cold in winter, hot in summer, that bacteria is able to effect decay and that decay nourishes the soil and brings it to greater fruitfulness is all a reflection of the Divine. The big bang and stars and black holes and chemistry and all the ways in which science works is all infused with the laughing cognition of our Gods, delighting in Their artistry.

Think about what it means that science: biology, physics, the natural sciences, math, all of it is a reflection of the minds of our Gods. When we then explore those things we are glimpsing our Gods. And because we are talking about concepts that are based on harmony, ratio, and proportion we can include art in that category too. Why is art and music and dance and sculpture and writing sacred? These things reflect the glory of the Gods. They flow from the minds of our Gods into our world renewing and transforming it again.

I want to quote Edward again more fully, because the purity of these structures, the unfiltered purity of math as an expression of the Gods is significant (and I don’t want to muddy the waters with my own inaccurate accounting):

“The mathematics that mathematicians still do, just like the philosophy that philosophers still do—actually more so, because mathematicians have not gotten distracted—is a way of grasping what the Gods are doing, even if it doesn’t talk about the Gods explicitly. In a sense, if we can only recognize the Gods where They are explicitly spoken of, we show that we no longer understand or believe that Being comes from Them.

One of the most important implications of the role of number, Platonically speaking, has to do with the priority in procession of number over other concepts. In essence, this means that there is an intelligible grasp of reality that is more primordial than conceptual reduction. This has many implications for the polytheist, but one of the first is that the “numerical difference” of the Gods is preserved from being reduced to their conceptual commonalities (chief of which is, of course, that of being-Gods). Number, especially for the Greeks, is figure, configuration. So it’s about the possible kinds of relation of individuals to one another—which is grounded in the relations Gods have with one another, which establishes the space for our experience as well—and the possible kinds of configuration inside each individual, which has its ground in the way Gods relate to Their own powers.

The purity of mathematics, the fact that we can go so far with it without drawing on anything else, testifies in itself that it is a particularly divine science, because it resembles in this sense what the Gods can do in virtue of not needing to seek anything outside Their own nature. The importance of mathematics to Platonism is one of the most well-attested things about it. Plato’s Academy supposedly had a sign above it that said “Let no one ignorant of geometry enter.” Platonism and Pythagoreanism are virtually indistinguishable intellectual movements in antiquity.”(2)

Aside from the fact that I would never have been allowed in with my poor mathematics skills, one of the things that leapt out to me immediately in my conversation with Edward is this: if we only recognize the Gods when we speak specifically of “Gods,” we’re missing something. Our understanding is lacking. Our conception of being and becoming is lacking. If we have to actually name the Gods to recognize Their order and work, then there is a problem with our perception. The way we look at the world is flawed. The Gods are not something outside of our world. They are not apart from it or us, and those structures and systems of math and science, philosophy and the arts are pathways by which we can reach Them. (3)

Also, so much of what we must do as polytheists today is reclaim fields like philosophy and the sciences from monotheistic damage. I may write about this in later posts, but I think there is an unconscious attitude that’s filtered into polytheism, that attitude of modernity that devotion is not rational (or practical). I’ve seen it manifest in a hostility toward devotion at worst and even in some of the best cases, as a self-consciousness and even shame. It is as though an equation has been set up in which to honor our Gods rightly we must hand over the reins of rational thought, science, philosophy, etc. to others (opposed in many cases not just to polytheism but to devotion and religion in general). It’s time to repair and heal our faulty world view and take these disciplines back. These are not areas that we should ever cede.

I cannot begin to express how deeply Bonaventure’s passages on numbers as a reflection of the Gods affected me. There was a moment in class where I felt as though a veil had been ripped off my eyes and I could see with crystalline clarity the order and structure of things, of everything and the way it led to the Gods. I did not cry in class but oh I wanted to, with the sheer beauty and enormity of what was being revealed. This too is restoration.

When I teach devotional work, time and time again i’m confronted by people who simply don’t know how to get started. They struggle and falter and often grow disheartened. How different might that process be when I can say “look around you. Look at the order of everything. It is a reflection of the Gods.” or even more fully to say that we are not external to the Gods, but as part of that cosmic order, we rest in and flow from the minds of our Gods, working together, creating together, that everything external to our beings is a reflection of the Gods. The Gods are right there, all around us. The very workings of our minds, our ability to recognize and comprehend was a gift carefully structured by Them, that leads back to Them. We are infused with Their grace simply by Being. Start there. Meditate on that. Let that awareness unfold and carry you into the labyrinth of devotion.

What this means, at least what I think this means, is that we are never actually cut off from our Gods. We cannot be by the mere rubric of Being. We may have to re-learn awareness of this. We may have to unclutter and deprogram our minds but the cognition of the Gods is unfolding all around us and through us and in us. We are it, connected to it, through the organization of our cells, through the firing of our synapses, through our own experience of Being. Perhaps realizing this, realizing that disconnection is simply not actually possible, will make those first faltering steps of devotion a little less difficult, and perhaps it will sustain when fallow times happen. Perhaps it will infuse this entire process — of devotion, of restoration, of everything—with joy, because there is such tremendous joy in that pristine, unfolding order. That, most of all, is what brought me to tears: the sense of joy and delight which the Gods take in the act of creating. I tasted it for a moment, in that glimpse of structure and equations, and that moment was enough.

Notes

1. Bonaventure: The Soul’s Journey into God; The Tree of Life; The Life of St. Francis.” Translated by Ewert Cousins. Paulist Press, 1978. (The Classics of Western Spirituality Series).

2. Email correspondence with Edward Butler on March 1, 2015.  

3. All the more why I insist that it is a false dichotomy when people equate “putting the Holy Powers (Gods, ancestors, spirits) first as neglecting one’s family, community, and kin. It’s precisely the opposite. It enhances and flows through everything and demands greater engagement not just with the Holy, but with everyone and everything in one’s world.

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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.

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On the Subject of Syncretism

So I had a discussion this evening with someone about syncretism. Apparently, there had been some push back recently over certain Gaulish Deities having been treated to the interpretatio romana. It really made me think about the process of syncretization, how it works and why it’s an important way of engaging with certain Deities.

For the most part, the Romans were very respectful of indigenous religions. The times when they oppressed or legislated against a particular tradition it was never (despite how Roman propaganda may have spun the issue) purely about the religion. It was, without exception, due to political issues. For instance, four examples spring readily to mind: there was the persecution of Bacchic Cultus in the second century B.C.E. Southern Italy was a hot bed of resistance to Roman rule and much of that resistance was fomented by leaders of that particular cultus. Likewise with the Druids and the Isle of Mona. It was central to resistance to Roman rule. The cult of Isis was briefly prescribed by Octavian but this had little to do with the cult itself and everything to do with the aftermath of the civil war with Antony, in which Cleopatra (who positioned herself as an incarnation of Isis) was central. Then of course there was Christianity. That rather, in my opinion, speaks for itself. Romans were a bit horrified when they found out what the cultus of Cybele entailed but they never prescribed it. There was a period where Roman citizens were forbidden from becoming galli, but the cultus itself was otherwise allowed to flourish uninterrupted. For the most part, the Romans attempted to respect and engage with indigenous religion. They were very pious people. Quite often this was done through the interpretatio romana.

When Rome took over a province, they would often append the names of their Gods to that of local Deities. For instance, we have Sulis-Minerva, Mars-Lenus, and Tacitus in his Germania gives us an account of Germanic Deities where suddenly Odin becomes Mercurius, Tyr becomes Mars, and Thor becomes Herakles. This was not done out of disrespect but as a means of finding a keyhole, a window, a doorway to understanding and engaging with these Deities. This was especially true for those Romans who settled permanently in a territory. Looking at Britannia or Gaul or any other province, the syncretism became a meeting point for both the indigenous people and the Romans and it gave the Gods more power.

Moreover, insofar as the Romans went, this was done as a mark of respect, an acknowledgement of the Deity’s power. Gods are powerful and the Romans ever and always acknowledged that in their religious and military practices. They had several specific religious rites performed by their military to ensure that the Gods of those people they conquered would support the Roman cause, rites like evocatio, which invited those Gods to join the Roman side. In this respect, it seems the Romans used the names of Their Gods almost as titles. If they saw a particular aspect of an indigenous Deity that in their minds connected that Deity to one of the Roman Ones, then it was easy to augment that connection with syncretization. For instance, with the Gaulish God Lenus, there is significant martial symbolism. Therefore, the Romans logically equated connected Him with Mars. In other words, They were putting Him in a place wherein He would receive the same attention and awareness as their own Deity Mars. It is almost as if the names were titles, markers, placeholders wherein the Gods might dance. It was also on the Roman point of view, a mark of respect. Rome was the greatest power in the world during its time, and to acknowledge a Deity with a Roman title was one of the most respectful things to the Roman mind that one might do.

Now, I will admit, as I once told my [academic] students: syncretism is not a simple term. When it comes up, it means that something happened. There was movement, interaction, migration, colonization and that might happen naturally and organically or it might be a matter of conquest. It should never be taken at face value. Where there is syncretism there is a story, and sometimes a bloody history. Like it or not, however, syncretism is part of the history of polytheism. Sometimes in fact, that syncretism was spurred by the indigenous peoples themselves and not always under duress. Points of syncretism became a point of weaving culture, religion, and a meeting point for the indigenous communities (be they Celts or Gauls or Britains, etc.) and the Roman people. Ignoring syncretism takes away a place of power from the Gods in question and ignores that complex history of Their worship.

All of this, of course, raises questions for us about whether or not we should include Roman imagery in our icons of various Deities and more importantly whether or not we should venerate syncretized Gods. I think it is important that we do. The syncretic form and space in which the God or Gods (because after all, we don’t know what deals the two deities in question might have made with each Other regarding that form) are honored is part of that Deity (or Deities’) history. It’s part of Their cultus. It is a huge part of how the ancestors for generations engaged spiritually. To cut that off, to ignore it, to demand that it be erased is deeply disrespectful not only to the Gods but to the ancestors as well. It is nullifying their religious experience of their own Gods. It is also nullifying a point of peace, neutral territory if you will, between the Romans and the various peoples they conquered. In some cases, it is nullifying the horror and pain our ancestors experienced (i.e. in the Middle Passage which gave us religions like Lukumi, Candomble, and Voudoun) and the fact that their Gods followed them into exile.  

Returning to the question of specifically Roman syncretism, if nothing else, we should remember, I think, that we owe the Romans a debt. For Heathens at least, we know the names of certain Deities (including the Matronae) largely from Roman inscriptions. This is not because Rome destroyed sanctuaries (they didn’t) but because literacy was not widespread in the northlands until the Christian invasion. Knowledge of certain of our Holy Powers exists because Roman men and women were grateful to Them, prayed to Them, petitioned Them, and then left markers and offerings of thanks. They did this in their own vernacular. They did this via interpretatio romana. If the Gods in question could accept it and allow Their cultus to flourish, can we do any less?

Shutting that out and excluding all of that in the hopes of having some illusionary purity of religion shuts out all of these complex conversations that we could be having about the subject and ignores a very uncomfortable reality: there was never any such pure practice. Nothing exists in a vacuum. Religions and cultus always developed in conversation with each other.

 If I were confronted with a syncretic form of a Deity I venerate, and I were uncertain as to whether or not I should venerate this God or Goddess via such a form, I would simply divine on it. That is one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal. Polytheisms ancient and modern were always religions of diviners. In the end, this isn’t a difficult question at all. It comes down to one thing, between the individual and their holy Powers: what do the Gods want?  That answer should define practice not the opinions of so-called community members you’ll never meet face to face, who will always find something to be critical of in your devotion usually reflecting the paucity in theirs.

Close up of my Hermes shrine

My friend Carlton was visiting recently (we go to school together) and, not being a polytheist, he was fascinated by my various shrines. Since he’s teaching a theology class this semester, he asked if he could take photos to use in his class (and i’m ok with that). This is the photo he took of my Hermes shrine. I love the angle of the close up, and the drama of the black and white,  so I got his ok to share it here. 

Hermes shrine aug. 31 Carlton

(Photo by C. Chase. Used with permission).

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.

Polytheistic Voices: Interview with Lykeia

20170306_160233 (1)This month’s “Polytheistic Voices Interview” is with Lykeia of Lykeia’s Botanica. I”ve known her for several years now as a devout devotee of Apollon. She’s also a painter and sculptor who makes beautiful images and icons of the Gods (she’s working on a Mani statue for as I type this). She has several books on Apollon available and has done a great deal over the last few years to build and promote His cultus. Thank you, Lykeia for taking the time to answer these questions.

GK: Let’s start with something really basic for those who may not know you. Tell me a little bit about yourself. I”m betting most of my readers aren’t familiar with you. Who are you and what do you do? LOL.

Lykeia: Well my name is Lykeia, a name that was given to me in Greece during a naming ceremony. You know this ceremony for adults is adapted from household naming ceremonies that introduce new children to the gods of the household. You don’t realize just how adapted it has to be until you do it with children, as has been done with both of my youngest children following their seventh day. This name refers the wolf (and light) which is a pretty significant part of my relationship with Apulu (Apollon). After…wow 20 years (now that I think of it) of worship.. my gods and ancestors have requested that I used terminology and spiritual cues from my Etruscan ancestors. This has been a huge adaption for me I am sure you can imagine. All the same it doesn’t much affect what I do as a crafter and icon maker. It has taken me many years to get a shop started but I am pleased that it is finally having groans of growing pains. Slow as it be. When not crafting I write. I have a series of booklets gradually coming out (2 of which are currently published and available) dealing with devotional worship of Apollon. I am also working on finishing a novena for him and starting up a year long book of hymns and meditations for his devotees. Let me see, the only other pertinent information is perhaps that I am a married mother of three living in Alaska.

GK: How did you come to polytheism?

Lykeia: I totally fell in love with the gods when I was 12 and read my first book of mythology. They just made sense to me on a very instinctive and practical than an omniscient far away father god in Christianity. It wasn’t until I was 14 and doing research for a school report that I came across the goddess spirituality books of Starhawk. While goddess spirituality wasn’t my cup of tea as I had a fondness for several male deities, it did start the ball rolling in the right direction. I read everything related to Paganism that I could get my hands. I discarded popular Wicca for its duotheism and eventually Stregheria (which I got into as an attempt to embrace my heritage but left disappointed for some of the same problems I had with popular Wicca). Even before getting in with the streghe, in my teens I had already started abandoning Pagan texts for texts on ancient history and religion. So that kind of was the writing on the wall. After my stint with the streghe, I put all of my energy into Polytheism that was more in line with my initial passion…the ancient Polytheistic practices.

GK: Why Apollon? (I hate it when people ask me this about Odin, but it’s a question I find a lot of people are intrigued by). How did that relationship develop?

Lykeia: Actually it did not come about directly. I was initially a sworn maiden to Artemis from the age 14 until 18. All I had asked is that when I had children that the birth be quick and they be girls (on my third child I ended up changing my mind and petitioned Her with offerings to have one boy lol). Apollon did not enter my life until I was in my mid 20s. I joke and say often that She was preparing me for Him. My first experiences of Him were very raw and intense like a consuming fire. The Daphne myth was a very poignant one for me…that run instinct. Never had I felt something that direct in divine touch. It didn’t take me long to relish and celebrate those moments and then eventually surrender and devote myself to Him utterly.

GK: What would you tell someone looking to develop a relationship with Apollon devotionally? What do you feel are the key components to devotion?

Lykeia: First I would say examine your motivation. Are you wanting a devotional relationship out of direct experience and genuine pull to the god? Or are you seeking to get something out of it in particular. Be honest with yourself. There is nothing wrong with the latter scenario of devotion but in it you need to be clear as to your obligations in turn and DO IT. Cassandra is quite a good warning on that end. Also realize that being His isn’t going to necessarily make you an instant oracle…His domain is vast and you may have skills related an entirely different part. Everyone seems to want to be an Oracle though…except me. I just divine for my family lol.

GK: People wouldn’t want to be oracles, I warrant, if they knew what it entails. Now I know from following you on facebook and from our private conversations that you are looking into Etruscan practices and Deities. Why? What prompted that? How do you see it intersecting with your devotion to Apollon (or don’t you)?

Lykeia: Heh at first the Etruscan thing was nothing more than a “hey that is interesting” footnote to my ancestry. It wasn’t until when I was having divination done on an entirely unrelated note that the “look you need to focus on Etruscan stuff came through”. I put it on a mental burner and half forgot about it until another unrelated divination months later repeated it a bit more insistently. Well that made me pay attention, finally. I didn’t initially want it as it is hard to revive and gets poo-pooed by some who don’t understand why to even bother since we don’t have primary sources from them. Yet there is a LOT we are given by their very close Roman neighbors. Not to mention considerable archaeology so it is not as daunting as I feared. Hellenic polytheism just spoiled me a bit lol. As for Apulu…actually given that Apollon was borrowed from the Hellenes at a very early period it actually is in line with how I perceive Apollon and relate to Him in His early form a seasonal wolfish herding god of storms and plagues. So it has taken no significant adjustment outside of getting used to the name Apulu.

GK: You’re a vibrant artist and your work has been featured on several of my own prayer cards — thank you for that by the way. I do appreciate you allowing me to make them. Is this a devotional practice for you? Where does your inspiration for this work come from?

Lykeia: Thank you! And it’s certainly my pleasure to be helping out! Honestly I address the deity and stare at the canvas until inspiration comes. Sometimes this helped by reading on Them before hand…or even walking away. I can’t tell you how many times inspiration has hit while in the shower LOL! But it is quite devotional. It is part of my task from Apollon this relegation of the gods through art and poetry in parallel to oracle work others do.

GK: How do you balance having a family and doing the intense level of devotional work that you do?

Lykeia: It is not easy. As it is until I can get my business off the ground I work 3rd shift. This means I get a couple hours sleep in the morning before the kids wake up…and a couple hours in the evening after my husband gets home. I fit devotion around how the kids are behaving. If they won’t be too wild I bring them in the worship room…otherwise I wait for nap time. I have much more flexibility on my weekend! I can actually have private time in there!

GK: Because I”m a shit stirrer: what are your thoughts on raising your children polytheistic?

Lykeia: I think it is very necessary. It informs how they view the world and their relationship to it and those deities and spirits that occupy it. My eldest daughter was raised polytheistic and even though right now she is going through a period of personal focus the gods still make sense to her and impact how she relates to others and the world. My youngest children have the benefit of me having a more developed relationship with my gods and practices of worship and devotion. I was only 19 when I had my eldest and I was still working stuff out as I have mentioned. My babies are taught the names and told the myths. As they get older they will participate in offerings like my eldest did.

GK: I’ll admit to having no patience with Pagans or Polytheists who refuse to raise their children in their faith. How else are we expected to restore our traditions? It’s little enough to give back to the Gods. So it delights me every time I see a devout parent passing that on to his or her child. To continue though, what projects are you working on now? Where can people find your work?

Lykeia: I am working on so many things. I have two different booklets in the works. One deals with his maternal family and serpent symbolism. The other focuses on the herding wolfish Apollon and directs focus too to his relationship with Hermes and Dionysos. I have a novena almost ready to come out. The big project is the Book of Days, a 365 day litany of Apollon with brief mini discussions one can meditate on. I am hoping it will be ready by the autumn sometime. Artistically I am always working on something new. My current big project is to finish up the portrait of Apollon with his maternal family. I am also working on as donation to the Temple of Aphrodite two large paintings that will go in their temple when it has a roof. I kind of just go where inspiration directs me. Most of my original work, prints and products an be found at lykeiabotanica.com or at my etsy store.

GK: Thank you, Lykeia. Those sound like amazing projects and I know I”ll be picking a couple of those books up. Folks, check out her shop and if you don’t see anything you like, email her. She does take commissions.

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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.

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.

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Brjóta ekki bein (Don’t Break the Bones): Sacrifice in the Northern Tradition

(I know that this is going to be a challenging topic for some of you. If you are bothered by frank discussions of religion and animal sacrifice, stop reading and go watch this cat video. Here’s some pussies for you to play with. For everyone else, let’s have an adult conversation).

Years and years ago (at least fifteen if not longer) when I was still Theodish, I remember many heated discussions over the proper way to perform sacrifice. Those among us who were trained to perform this ritual were split about the proper way to dispatch the chosen animals. Some favored shooting the animal in the head first (as a mercy) and others using a clean cut at the throat. One of the reasons given for preferring the traditional method (the cut of the knife) was the story of the Thor and His goats.

Thor’s chariot is driven by two goats: Tanngrisnir (snarler, one who bears his teeth) and Tanngnjóstr (teeth grinder). When necessary, Thor is able to kill, cook, and consume these goats who will then be restored to life with His hammer provided their bones are left intact. The prose Edda tells the story of Thor’s visit to a farmer. He and Loki stop for rest, and Thor (perhaps knowing that hosting two Gods is a bit much for a poor farmer) offers up His two goats in sacrifice to provide the evening’s meal. There’s one caveat: the bones must not be cracked for their marrow. They must remain intact. The farmer’s son Thjalfi can’t resist and cracks one leg bone to suck a bit of the marrow. When Thor restores the goats to life, one of them is lame. In reparation for this, the peasant offers his children Thjalfi and Roskva to Thor as servants. It’s an entertaining tale and Loki, Thor, and the children go off to have adventures. For our purposes, however, the important point is the emphasis on maintaining the integrity of the bones.

In the Theod, we solved the initial debate by choosing to sacrifice in the traditional way (and in retrospect I’m very, very glad we did so). At the time, I didn’t see the problem with shooting the animal first. It seemed merciful and kind but over the years I’ve completely changed my position. Partly, I’ve had so much more experience with proper sacrifice and I’ve become far more confident in making sacrifice myself, and I’ve had far more exposure to other traditions where this is likewise common. I learned several things, not the least of which was that if a cut is done cleanly and correctly, it is actually all but painless for the animal. I’ve also come to realize how crucially important this story is to the ritual scaffolding in which sacrifice must take place.

When we do these ritual actions, like sacrifice, we’re re-enacting our cosmology. We’re bringing to life the communal mysteries of our tradition. A living tradition exists in those currents and it is the obligation of those practicing it to renew them regularly.

This is also largely why I no longer believe it appropriate to shoot the animal before cutting its throat. A) it’s far more humane to cut properly and B) any other method is a violation of ritual protocol. The bones must remain intact. I went back and forth on this for years and I used to come down on the side of shooting the animal first if one felt one must but now, I think that is incorrect. As we learn better, we do better. A sacrifice is more than just a collection of mechanical techniques. It is the living expression of a tradition. It is a sacrament.

For the blotere,(1) there are three parts to any sacrifice that must be carefully learned and understood: the mechanics (how to make the cut and to do it painlessly for the animal, and effectively), how to do the divination to determine how to dispose of the sacrifice and whether or not it was accepted, and the ritual itself, in other words, how to infuse the entire procedure with the holy, how to make the conscious connections between the cosmic structures in which we’re working, the ritual being done, the living tradition, and the Gods Themselves. This is a ritual process. It’s not enough to simply cut an animal’s throat, or kill it in some other way, and give it to the Gods. There is a proper ritual scaffolding for the act, an act that is our holiest and most important of sacraments.

It’s not just that you’re giving a life to the Gods; the act of sacrifice is an imitation of primordial creation: Odin, Lodhur, and Hoenir create the world out of the slaughter of Ymir. Sacrifice is tapping into that, recreating that act, everything that it encompasses, bringing our traditions into being again and again and again and that’s potent magic.(2) It must be approached in a proper way, with purity and focus, and attention to every detail. It’s not enough just to slaughter. We must understand what we’re tapping into and why.

This all came up recently within my lineage when one of my apprentices received inspiration for a sacrificial song. We had long felt that there should be some sort of song sung when the animal is being sacrificed.(3) In fact, it’s rather odd for our traditions not to have one; after all, the ATR have a special song that is sung when an animal is given and so did many Greek and Roman traditions. It was part of the procedure in many IE traditions and it always seemed rather odd to find the Norse and Germanic ones lacking. I was delighted when L. came to me with his song and when I did divination to confirm its appropriateness, the sense of it was overwhelming. Our tradition regained one of its songs. Think about how profound that is for a moment. When our traditions were destroyed by Christianity, our songs fell silent. Our procedures were lost. The scaffolding that supported our traditions was broken. This is one step back to full restoration and that is incredible.

It brings home the necessity, the crucial necessity of re-sacralizing our ritual procedures. It’s not enough to do, rather we must understand how to invest these actions with the sacred and why – otherwise, it’s pointless. (4) We must open ourselves up once again to awareness of the Holy. Our Gods are counting on us. Our traditions demand it.

The next time I take up the sacrificial knife and prepare myself for this ritual, I will think on this: Thor had two goats given over to nourish both Gods and man. Their bones must always remain unbroken and they will be restored to life. As I take up the blotere’s blade, with each offering, I am calling our traditions back to life again, and again, and again. May they flourish.

Notes:

1. sacrificial priest
2. this article is about ritual sacrifice to the Gods only. Sacrifice for magical purposes is a different matter all together, not covered here.
3. It doesn’t matter to which Deity the animal is being given, or how the animal is disposed of afterwards: the act of sacrifice itself taps into certain cosmic grooves within the tradition.
4. and a mockery of our ancestral ways.

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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.