A (civil) discussion on twitter today got me thinking about our various traditions and one of the key things necessary in making them sustainable and inter-generational: namely, marrying other polytheists and raising your children as polytheists too — and I don’t think it matters which polytheism because that is a very particular lens through which to view the world and one’s relationships to the Powers and there are commonalities there in ways that there simply aren’t with monotheisms.
I’m always surprised at the push back I get on the idea that we should marry within our communities. Granted, now our communities are small but they will grow, with our cultivation. I should point out that early Christians had no trouble requiring their prospective spouses to convert…and while I don’t support proselytizing, I do support this. I’ve seen far too many people who find themselves in households where they have to hide, limit, or downplay their practices. I would at the very, very least have a marriage contract in place that stipulates to the religious upbringing of any and all children. Let me add that getting rid of an impious spouse who demands one hide one’s polytheism is, as a friend of mine would say, “addition by subtraction.” Christians have a term “unequally yoked” that I think applies here. It’s when the two partners are not on the same spiritual journey, are not of the same religion and thus cannot support each other in building a spiritually nourishing household effectively. It’s a terrible thing to be unequally yoked.
Even more push back comes at the thought of raising children in the faith. Why would you not do this? THIS even more than marrying other polytheists is so key, so fundamental to the future of our traditions that it just boggles my mind why someone would even consider doing otherwise. If you don’t love your Gods and you don’t want to see Their traditions grow, why are you here?
Of course, the argument always raised is ‘I don’t want to force my religion on my child’ but this is no argument at all. Firstly, it is a parent’s duty to provide spiritual education. That is part and parcel of raising a healthy child just as one would instill proper virtue and understanding. Secondly, there are plenty of ways to raise a child in one’s faith without being abusive about it. Why not – and I mean this in all seriousness, because this is where I think the real issues lie—deal with the damage and wounds from your own religious upbringing instead of denying both your children and your Gods the blessing of a tradition? It should be unthinkable to raise our children any other way. If we do, we’re cutting off our traditions at their knees. Each generation has to retread ground those before them already walked (and we do this anyway by our disrespect toward the elders in our communities, by ignoring or pissing on their work, and by attempting to write them out of their own traditions’ histories).
Standards are not oppressive. I’m going to say that again for those of you in the back: standards are not oppressive, at least not if you want to accomplish something worthwhile. Moreover, we can in fact choose whom we love and with whom we spend the rest of our lives. It’s important to make good choices here. It’s not enough to love someone in the moment. One must consider making a life with that person and having children (if one wants children), and what one is willing to compromise upon and what one isn’t. Hopefully commitment to the Gods and Their traditions form an absolute hard line, a sine qua non in that equation.
Someone complained today that this separates groups into “us” vs. “them” and yes, it does. This does not mean that “they” are bad, just other, different, outside the community of faith and practice, and as lovely as they might be, potential dead weight in a relationship founded first and foremost in shared piety and love. One’s relationship with the Gods is always personal and needs to be nourished regularly but as religious people we are not separate from a community, hopefully one that is coalescing into a tradition. One of the greatest challenges facing us today as polytheists is how to ensure that our traditions are sustainable and we can work hard and do all we want as individuals but eventually unless we’re raising our children in the faith, we’re never going to get past the place that we’re at now. Only through inter-generational transmission of the tradition and love for the Gods is any community truly sustainable.
I’ve seen people talk about personal sovereignty, free will and such being important and they are. We have the free will to make good decisions, decisions that further our traditions, decisions that honor our Gods. Why is it so damned hard to put something other than ourselves first?
I’m seeing a disturbing trend in certain polytheisms (for once, not Heathenry) of trying to close the door to any type of direct devotional experience or theophany. The idea that the Gods can call someone to Their worship, grant direct experience, communicate in various ways outside of divination is very threatening to some people. Well, tough titty said the kitty, it happens. All the time. It is the heart and soul of any licit tradition. You’d think these nay-sayers would learn from the mistakes Heathenry has made and not try to waltz merrily down the same rocky road.
I agree that there is a tremendous lack of discernment in certain dark corners of our communities (tumblr, lookin’ at you). I agree that too many people put their feelings, politics, sentimentalities, [insert obnoxious thing of choice here] before clean veneration of the Gods. I agree that many of those purporting to have fantastic devotional experiences are confused, lying, mentally ill, or what have you. Every community has this. But I part ways at the idea that such direct experience is antithetical to polytheism. The lack of discernment is the consequence of the attitudes of modernity and lack of good, intergenerational transmission of tradition, and lack of competent elders (or respect for elders).
Someone said to me in the course of these discussions: “I look at someone saying ‘the Gods called me to worship Them’ the same way I’d look at someone saying ‘I’m eating this ice cream because the vanilla ice cream called me to eat it.” All of which neglects or purposely ignores the key ontological difference between the two examples, namely that Gods have agency. They can and often do call us to veneration. We’re not always savvy or sensible about doing so, nor do we always respond to such inspiration as we should, but that doesn’t change that the Gods are quite willing to engage.
To rule that out is to betray the very tradition you’re trying to build. It’s spitting in the face of your ancestors who themselves had powerful devotional experiences – and how do we know this? Well, they had a powerful, intergenerational tradition that was rich, complex, and birthed some of the greatest thinkers in the Western world.
When you shit on a person for their experiences with the Gods, consider for a moment that you may in fact be shitting on those Gods too. There’s not really any coming back from that, especially not when it’s done because you want to be edgy or rule out liberal (or conservative) contamination into your tradition.
On fb scholar and Heathen Mathias Nordvig posted the following and graciously gave me permission to share it as well. It’s a very, very important point. We distract ourselves with trying to categorize and compartmentalize the Powers and that can lead us down very fruitless paths. What is important is Their holiness.
Dr. Edward Butler, in response to this (we’re conversing about it on fb) said rightly, “Any name which has been preserved is precious. We have no way of knowing what sort of cultus They may have had. Chances are, if a name was preserved at all, it’s because it was important to somebody.” So much was lost to Christian conquest, all the more reason to treasure what we have and to devote ourselves to veneration. Religion, in the polytheistic world, is about right relationship to the Holy, and the ongoing cultivation of those relationships. Through that cultivation and devotion we continually participate in the ongoing process of creation. We sustain the work the Gods have done and continue to do. We do our part.
Yesterday, my husband and I were out and about and we decided to stop for lunch at Dutchess Diner in Poughkeepsie. We left ill and in my case, pissed off. The food was, quite simply inedible: tasteless, unseasoned, and gross. It actually made my husband sick to the point of vomiting because it was so poorly thought out. Now, usually I’d just file this under ‘never eat there again’ and be done with it, but it irritated me to the degree that I realized it crossed into space that violated my food taboos and I have many, particularly surrounding food (this is one of the joys of being a priest and vitki: one acquires various taboos and, to use an Irish term as there isn’t one that I know in English, gessa. In other words, there are things I cannot do in service to the Gods and things I must, respectively). Hospitality and food specifically are huge areas where quite a lot of sacred things come together.
Firstly, food is fucking sacred. Be it plant or animal something has laid down its life to sustain ours. It is the predator-prey cycle. And for all those vegetarians who feel morally superior to everyone else because they don’t consume flesh, consider this: science has proven that not only are plants sentient in their own way, but they know when you’re about to cut and kill them. I read one article years ago that said one study showed they even scream. We just can’t hear it. (My gardener friend just told me that the smell of cut grass is grass warning other grass and plants that cutting is coming, because they are being slaughtered. Again, there were a couple of studies done. They exude chemicals when they are dying that is akin to crying. They cry as they are dying). You do not actually have the moral high ground. It’s a good lesson about how we shouldn’t prioritize one form of life over another. It’s ALL valuable. It’s all full of consequence.
This is one of the Vanic mysteries: to draw sustenance from the land and to give back to the land in return. To grow something, tend it, nourish it, and then consume it drawing upon its nourishment is a powerful cycle. Modernity has utterly corrupted it, removed us from the land, from the slaughter of our own animals, from the tending of our own crops, from buying meat and crops grown naturally and by our neighbors. We fill our food with chemicals and by- products and utter shit to the point it no longer qualifies as food. It’s obscene. The corollary is that we also don’t really give a shit anymore about properly preparing it. Far too few learn from their parents how to cook and maintain a home.
To prepare food is a grace, an honor, an expression of hospitality. It is nourishment, of course on the basest level, but spiritually ever so much more. Cooking is alchemy. It’s a combination of elements to product, through some weird chemical process, a different, more nourishing whole. To show disrespect for food is to show disrespect to the Gods. Part of being respectful is learning how to cook properly. This includes cooking for yourself; and as with allowing media to take up space in one’s mind, being mindful of what ingredients one uses, of what one allows to take up space in one’s body is equally important. Worry about the integrity of the food rather than the calories. Just eat less of a portion of actual food. You may find you need and want less.
I’m going to digress here for a moment. Let me talk about salt. Salt was a prized commodity to some of our ancestors. It was precious. They knew its value. They hadn’t yet been exposed to a corporate pseudo-health industry trying to convince them that man-made chemicals are better, or that food should be left ill-prepared. Salt is magic. Salt brings out the flavor of food, particularly meat. It must be added during the cooking process, NOT after, for the proper chemical and alchemical process to happen. Adding it after cooking will not work. Apparently, it’s the fad now to cook everything, including meat without salt. It’s positively disgusting; it’s like eating cardboard. Now, I understand moderating one’s salt but if you’re not willing to cook a thing properly than just don’t cook it at all; it’s the same with butter. Margarine is filled with chemicals. It’s gross. Use butter and if you must be careful, use less. Substituting good, natural, wholesome ingredients with processed shit is like spitting in Frey’s face.
This is why it drives me crazy when people (who haven’t been properly brought up, i.e. had parents who for whatever reason didn’t teach them how to handle themselves in a kitchen – and there are many reasons this may happen, including the parents not having been taught themselves) try to take short cuts in the kitchen. Stop. Just stop. Do things as they are meant to be done. If you don’t understand the process, trying to experiment or take short cuts is a quick road to disaster. Learn how to do things properly.
When I cook, I am honoring my ancestors, every last one of them who did this every day to feed themselves and their families. I am forging and re-forging a connection to them through the work of my hands. When I cook, I’m honoring the Vanir and often pray as I prep my food, because everything I’m doing is possible because of Their gifts. To walk into a place and pay money – also something sacred, a form of nourishment, a thing with transformative power ruled by the Duergar—for something poorly prepared, treated with utter lack of care, disdainfully and foolishly is a violation of every one of those tenets. It goes right back to the old maxim: if you can’t do something right, don’t do it at all.
For those wanting to better their cooking skills, I recommend taking a couple of classes from a local culinary school if you can afford it (they often offer classes for the lay person). Otherwise, there are youtube videos, magazines, grandmothers—not necessarily your own. Old people, know things lol. ;). Get a good set of knives, a good skillet, a cooking pan, a mixing bowl, and a crock pot (a great book to start with is Make it Fast, Cook it Slow which offers 365 recipes for the crock pot), mixing spoons and cups (they are not the same). Also, when working on a budget, it’s better to use simple ingredients that are real, like beans and rice and a lot of flavoring than to buy a bunch of processed, frozen crap or fast food, even if that can be deceptively filling. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Yes, mistakes will happen and some things as you learn will be inedible. This is ok. It’s part of the learning process and it’s a far cry from presenting to guests something that should be edible but isn’t in the mistaken guise you’re competent.
Each quarter, my household donates to various charities. In the autumn and winter, we tend to focus on veterans’ organizations and charities like Paralyzed Veterans of America and the British Legion. Those are two that we really like (and I am open to suggestions of others).
In the spring and summer, we tend to focus more on educational charities and food/agricultural things. We’ll donate to Heifer (you can buy bees for people! My favorite thing. : ) ), Big Sur Land Trust (my adopted mom’s favorite place), and one that many of you might not be familiar with, and the reason I’m mentioning it now: DonorsChoose.
A high school teacher told me about this charity years and years ago and I really like it. Teachers can post projects that they are doing for their classrooms, for which they otherwise have no funding (because let’s face it, our educational system in this country is quite broken). It allows these teachers from all different grades and disciplines to open up their projects to outside donations and it’s lovely. So I’m posting largely to recommend this one to readers who may be looking for a way to support teachers and their work.
That is all. Let me know what charities you guys recommend. (What i’d really like to see is a polytheist run and focused charity, non-political, that focuses on helping those with long term illnesses and injuries with their medical costs. We’re not there yet, but maybe one day we will be).
Honoring one’s ancestors isn’t just a metaphor. It isn’t about chanting their names and pouring out libations (though these things are good in and of themselves as a place from which to begin). At its core it means shouldering their debt, digging into it, eating their pain and spitting up their bitterness and finding a way out and through—for them and for yourself—to healing, reparation, and wholeness once again.
We have no humanity without our ancestors and we carry their sufferings in our flesh, in the scarred skin of our minds, in every strand of our DNA, in the rough deep well of our memories collective and unconscious. It marks our bones, twists our marrow and in the end it lifts us up. Through it all, they elevate us just as we through our rites and prayer and the grace of remembrance seek to elevate them. We carry our dead with us always and they too bear us upon their backs. It begins and ends with our dead and they can carry us to our Gods as well. They have sacrificed themselves for our enfleshment. We can shoulder the weight of their lives.
One of the things that my tradition does of late is, at the start of each season, honoring a specific Goddess. That is not the only Deity that will be honored during this time – month to month, on holy tides, in personal devotions we honor many others, for instance, November belongs to Odin for me—but this is specifically for the seasonal shift. There is something in the power or what the Greeks would call the timai of the Goddesses that we’ve chosen that echoes the energy of the season.
At the start of the Autumn we honor Idunna. This is purely instinctive in our household – there’s something about the magic of Autumn that really calls Her to mind for us. And even though it’s a time when the earth is getting ready for its winter sleep, it’s that very sleep that brings about renewal in the spring. Usually in early September, we do a rite to honor Her for the quarter.
Winter was more difficult. In early December this year we did our rite to Frau Holle. This was a time when we were all focusing on internal household preparations for Winter and so, this seemed appropriate. I could also see honoring Skadhi at this time as well, particularly if one were outdoors a great deal. Our focus on this, however, is the preparation of the household throughout the seasons and attuning it appropriately so we went for this quarterly rite, with Frau Holle.
In early March, we honor Hrethe as a matter of course as a Goddess of March, but the Goddess that seems to dominate Spring as a whole for us is Ostara (or Eostre—same Deity, one name is Old Norse, the other Old English). It is to Her that our quarterly venerations go and we usually do that on the holy tide that bears Her name.
Then in Summer, in early June, we honor Sif and look to Her to govern the cyclical aspects of the season. Much of the household preparation we do throughout the season is dedicated to this Goddess, particularly things like maintaining a sustainable garden and pantry. This has made us overall, far, far more mindful of necessary household rhythms and of ways to connect the work we do in fulfillment of those rhythms to veneration of our Gods.
In last month’s newsletter, I posted about my recent interview with Sarenth and Jim on their podcast Around Grandfather Fire, but I don’t believe I mentioned it here. I gave a fairly long interview and had a great time. They asked some deeply insightful questions and I think the convo is worth a listen, which you, my readers, may do here. They have a whole index of interviews that you can listen to on various topics of interest to our traditions .
I don’t often talk about this, but I’ve spent the morning in conversation with a friend about the issues that can arise while being in grad school with chronic pain and disability. It occurred to me that this is a topic worth discussing in the realm of devotion too. How does one engage in consistent devotion when there are days that pain is so bad one can barely get out of bed?
I deal with this every day. I have severe damage to my spine, the result of a ballet career that ended in my twenties through injury. I have, as a result chronic, debilitating migraines, trouble walking on some days, and fibro myalgia. I’m a hot mess most days and some days the pain is bad enough that my world is a fog of hurt, every joint on fire, and I don’t leave my bed. I know plenty of people who have it even worse. Most days, I’m relatively mobile and I’m grateful for that. To say that this doesn’t impact my devotional practices would be ludicrous. It does, absolutely. It does not however, excuse me from them.
I don’t usually talk about this because to me, it’s not really relevant to whether or not I do what I need to do. I find work arounds. When I can’t do ritual, I can pray. When I can’t pray, maybe I can read and meditate on a text (though it’s hard to find a time when one can’t pray). If I want to make offerings but physically can’t, I’ll ask my husband or our house mate to help. I have certain baselines – like a few set prayers that I have memorized – that when I can do nothing else, I can do that. Then, there is always quiet contemplation of the Gods. That has benefit too. I set goals for myself, things that I very much want to do for my Gods and ancestors. I strive to reach those goals, but when I can’t, when my physical condition interferes, I don’t fret. I do what I can and pick up where I left off when I’m more mobile. I think it’s important to set high devotional goals and constantly strive to meet them, but bodies do as bodies do and those goals are lifetime goals to be worked toward, always, even if we never manage to meet them. We can always work on building better devotional habits.
Part of doing that, is to have variance in one’s practices and radical honesty with yourself and with your Gods. It’s very, very easy to use one’s disability as an excuse to do nothing, to skive off of one’s devotional practices. This isn’t the way to go. We can always make excuses for ourselves; that’s the easiest thing in the world. One of the hardest is to admit one’s weaknesses or damage and do as much as one can anyway, even if it’s less than what one wanted. Some days that may be a simple spoken prayer, ‘I love you oh my Gods. I cannot do more now, but when I can, I will. I thank You for your blessings.’ But the corollary to that is that when you are able to do more, do it fervently, with love and devotion and most of all gratitude.
My practice varies considerably from day to day, depending on which Deities I’m honoring, what type of devotion I’m doing, and what my physical condition is. It also matters whether I’m working for clients or am engaging in my own practices for myself and my household. In each, I try to do the most that I can do. When I can’t, I can’t and I don’t beat myself up about it (well, maybe I do a little but that’s a hard behavior to unlearn for a perfectionist). Tailor your practices to your physical abilities but don’t cut yourself any unnecessary slack. Good devotional work is a habit, and habits take work. Being physically compromised doesn’t mean you can’t do that work, you just have to work with your body, gently but persistently and know that this is enough.