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QOTD – a hard but necessary truth, and a glorious one

“The Gods and spirits are always looking for ways to speak to us. They are master choreographers and curators, but improvisors also. They use what is needed in the moment to produce the needed result, and sometimes in the unlikeliest of places. Anyone you meet could be a God in disguise; any moment could reveal Their wisdom. Be ready.” (by Lo, at footwork, which you can read here).

The chaste woman will not be defiled by Dionysos

I’m posting this here, because it keeps getting taken down on Sannion’s blog and I want to discuss it.

For those Tumblr geniuses (*snorts*) who may not realize it, the problem with Hippolytus was not that he was asexual. The problem was that in honoring Artemis, he chose to grossly disrespect Aphrodite and Her gifts. It’s fine to be deeply devoted to one God, to live one’s life in accordance with one’s identity but that doesn’t mean we get free rein to show disrespect for the mysteries of a different Deity. Simple equation. don’t fuck it up.

Thehouseofvines.com’s original post, posted with permission:

The chaste woman will not be defiled by Bacchic rites

Written by thehouseofvines

Another older piece, but the themes are relevant so I’m reposting it. 

So there’s a discussion playing out on Tumblr about whether all the Gods love all people which was started by someone’s comment that Aphrodite hates asexuals, based on a rather shallow reading of Euripides’ play Hippolytos. Not going to comment on any of that, though in passing someone remarked:

Also I think people forget about Dionysus?? Like he is the God of sex and wine. Although I don’t think he would out right smite them, but I think he’ll try to tempt them.

Which I will address, as it touches on something that I think a lot of people, including really smart and seriously devoted people, tend to overlook when it comes to him.

Dionysos is paradox.

Just about everything one can say about him is true, and it’s complete negation is also true.

This is something the Orphics of Olbia knew well when they wrote:

SEG 28.659:
βίος. θάνατος. βίος. ἀλήθεια. Ζαγρεύς. Διόνυσος

Life. Death. Life. Truth. Zagreus. Dionysos.

SEG 28.660:
εἰρήνη. πόλεμος. ἀλήθεια. ψεῦδος. Διόνυσος

Peace. War. Truth. Lie. Dionysos

SEG 28.661:
Διόνυσος. ἀλήθεια. σῶμα. ψυχή

Dionysos. Truth. Body. Soul.

Dionysos is definitely about the sexy times, as evidenced by the giant imitation cocks people carried in his festivals which often turned into violent drunken orgies. His best friends are lusty satyrs and home-wrecking madwomen. He churns up erotic excitement and a lot of folks, particularly in Southern Italy, looked forward to carnal union with him in the afterlife. His own proclivities run the gamut from pretty boys and genderqueers to fairly straight-lacedheteronormativemonogamy.

That’s not paradox though.

As his son by the Goddess Aphrodite was fond of saying, haec cunnum, caput hic praebeat, ille nates for it’s all the same in the dark.

In Euripides’ play The Bakchai Pentheus is obsessed with the idea that the Theban women have been led astray by the perverse stranger and are engaged in all sorts of lewd activities on the mountainside:

They creep off one by one
to lonely spots to have sex with men,
claiming they’re busy maenads worshipping.
But they rank Aphrodite, Goddess of sexual desire,
ahead of Bacchus their lord.
People say some stranger has arrived,
some wizard, a conjurer from the land of Lydia—
with sweet-smelling hair in golden ringlets
and Aphrodite’s charms in wine-dark eyes.
He hangs around the young girls day and night,
dangling in front of them his joyful mysteries.
If I catch him in this city, I’ll stop him.
He’ll make no more clatter with his thyrsos,
or wave his hair around. I’ll chop off his head,
slice it right from his body.

To which the aged Tieresias replies:

On women, where Aphrodite is concerned,
Dionysos will not enforce restraint
such modesty you must seek in nature,
where it already dwells. For any woman
whose character is chaste won’t be defiled
by Bacchic revelry.

Once Pentheus has the stranger (who is none other than Dionysos himself) in his possession he presses the point:

Well, stranger, I see this body of yours
is not unsuitable for women’s pleasure—
that’s why you’ve come to Thebes. As for your hair,
it’s long, which suggests that you’re no wrestler.
It flows across your cheeks that are most seductive.
You’ve a white skin, too. You’ve looked after it,
avoiding the sun’s rays by staying in the shade,
while with your beauty you chase Aphrodite.

Their exchange is like a tango, part duel and part dance of desire, with Dionysos cool, calm and collected the whole time as Pentheus becomes increasingly hysterical. At one point they are interrupted by the Messenger whom the king had sent out to spy on the women and what he reports is completely at variance with Pentheus’ lust-fueled delusions:

They were all asleep, bodies quite relaxed,
some leaning back on leafy boughs of pine,
others cradling heads on oak-leaf pillows,
resting on the ground—in all modesty.
They weren’t as you described—all drunk on wine
or on the music of their flutes, hunting
for Aphrodite in the woods alone.
Once she heard my men,
your mother stood up amid those Bacchae,
then called them to stir their limbs from sleep.
They rubbed refreshing sleep out of their eyes,
and stood up straight there—a marvelous sight,
to see such an orderly arrangement,
women young and old and still unmarried girls.
First, they let their hair loose down their shoulders,
tied up the fawn skins (some had untied the knots
to loosen up the chords). Then around those skins
they looped some snakes, who licked the women’s cheeks.
Some held young gazelles or wild wolf cubs
and fed them on their own white milk,
the ones who’d left behind at home a new-born child
whose breasts were still swollen full of milk.
They draped themselves with garlands from oak trees,
ivy and flowering yew. Then one of them,
taking a thyrsos, struck a rock with it,
and water gushed out, fresh as dew. Another,
using her thyrsos, scraped the ground. At once,
the God sent fountains of wine up from the spot.
All those who craved white milk to drink
just scratched the earth with their fingertips—
it came out in streams. From their ivy wands
thick sweet honey dripped. Oh, if you’d been there,
if you’d seen this, you’d come with reverence
to that God whom you criticize so much.

The eros that these women experience is not directed towards other humans, nor even to the God who has driven them frenzied from their homes, husbands and children – it is rather a transpersonal connection to nature and the beasts of the wild, with whom they feel a profound kinship. He has roused them from ordinary existence, lifted them out of the confines of their small and circumscribed identities, blurred the boundaries between them and all of creation, showed them that they are capable of being so much more than they ever dreamed of and given them the power to work miracles. They are filled with a lust for life and take animals, literally life embodied, to their breasts not for pleasure but to share the sustenance of their own life with them. They are imitating the primordial nymphs who had been the nurses and care-givers of the infant God when he was most vulnerable, as Diodoros Sikeliotes explicitly states:

Consequently in many Greek cities every other year Bacchic bands of women gather, and it is lawful for the maidens to carry the thyrsos and to join in the frenzied revelry, crying out ‘Euai!’ and honouring the God; while the matrons, forming in groups, offer sacrifices to the God and celebrate his mysteries and, in general, extol with hymns the presence of Dionysos, in this manner acting the parts of those who of old were the companions and nurses of the God. (Library of History 4.3.2-5)

Nor is this the only instance where we may observe such Dionysian chastity. There are numerous vases and other artistic representations of mainades fending off the unwanted sexual advances of satyrs with their thyrsoi, as well as thiasoi that were restricted to the female sex and sometimes even elderly women who were outside the domain of Aphrodite, such as in Italy:

Then Hispala gave an account of the origin of these rites. At first they were confined to women; no male was admitted, and they had three stated days in the year on which persons were initiated during the daytime, and matrons were chosen to act as priestesses. (Livy, History of Rome 39.13)

And at Athens:

I wish now to call before you the sacred herald who waits upon the wife of the king, when she administers the oath to the Gerarai as they carry their baskets in front of the altar before they touch the victims, in order that you may hear the oath and the words that are pronounced, at least as far as it is permitted you to hear them; and that you may understand how august and holy and ancient the rites are. I live a holy life and am pure and unstained by all else that pollutes and by commerce with man and I will celebrate the feast of the wine God and the Iobacchic feast in honor of Dionysos in accordance with custom and at the appointed times. (Demosthenes, Against Neaira 74-78)

Interestingly, there were also thiasoi that excluded women (I.Kallatis 47) and men who abstained from sex in service to the God:

I, who never in my life experienced Kypris and was an enemy of wickedness, was taken as a companion (hetairos) by Bromios together with the Fates. Bromios has me as a fellow-initiate in his own dances. My name is Julianus, and I lived 18 years. My father was Julianus and my mother was Apphia. Having died, they honored me with the tomb and this inscribed monument. His step-father Asklepiades, his aunt Juliane, his maternal uncle Dionysios, Ammianos, and Stratoneikos honored him. Year 325 of the Sullan era, 12th of the month of Peritios. (TAM 5.477)

And in myth Dionysos helps bring sanity to a raging hermaphroditic deity by castrating hir:

In him there had been resistless might, and a fierceness of disposition beyond control, a lust made furious, and derived from both sexes. He violently plundered and laid waste; he scattered destruction wherever the ferocity of his disposition had led him; he regarded not Gods nor men, nor did he think anything more powerful than himself; he contemned earth, heaven, and the stars. Now, when it had been often considered in the councils of the Gods, by what means it might be possible either to weaken or to curb his audacity, Liber, the rest hanging back, takes upon himself this task. With the strongest wine he drugs a spring much resorted to by Acdestis where he had been wont to assuage the heat and burning thirst roused in him by sport and hunting. Hither runs Acdestis to drink when he felt the need; he gulps down the draught too greedily into his gaping veins. Overcome by what he is quite unaccustomed to, he is in consequence sent fast asleep. Liber is near the snare which he had set; over his foot he throws one end of a halter formed of hairs, woven together very skilfully; with the other end he lays hold of his privy members. When the fumes of the wine passed off, Acdestis starts up furiously, and his foot dragging the noose, by his own strength he robs himself of his sex; with the tearing asunder of these parts there is an immense flow of blood; both are carried off and swallowed up by the earth; from them there suddenly springs up, covered with fruit, a pomegranate tree. (Arnobius of Sicca, Against the Heathen 5.5-6)

A fate which Dionysos, himself, is said to have suffered as Clement of Alexandria’s Exhortation to the Greeks relates:

If you wish to inspect the orgies of the Corybantes, then know that, having killed their third brother, they covered the head of the dead body with a purple cloth, crowned it, and carrying it on the point of a spear, buried it under the roots of Olympus. These mysteries are, in short, murders and funerals. And the priests of these rites, who are called kings of the sacred rites by those whose business it is to name them, give additional strangeness to the tragic occurrence, by forbidding parsley with the roots from being placed on the table, for they think that parsley grew from the Corybantic blood that flowed forth; just as the women, in celebrating the Thesmophoria, abstain from eating the seeds of the pomegranate which have fallen on the ground, from the idea that pomegranates sprang from the drops of the blood of Dionysos. Those Corybantes also they call Cabiric; and the ceremony itself they announce as the Cabiric mystery. For those two identical fratricides, having abstracted the box in which the phallos of Bacchus was deposited, took it to Etruria–dealers in honourable wares truly. They lived there as exiles, employing themselves in communicating the precious teaching of their superstition, and presenting phallic symbols and the box for the Tyrrhenians to worship. And some will have it, not improbably, that for this reason Dionysos was called Attis, because he was mutilated. And what is surprising at the Tyrrhenians, who were barbarians, being thus initiated into these foul indignities, when among the Athenians, and in the whole of Greece–I blush to say it–the shameful legend about Demeter holds its ground?

Delia Morgan explores this side of Dionysos in her powerful piece, The Ivied Rod: Gender and the Phallus in Dionysian Religion:

Nowhere is the paradox of Dionysos more dramatic than in the stark contrast between the god of the phallus and the ‘effeminate’ god of women. Ancient sources make frequent reference to Dionysos as ‘womanly’ or ‘not a real man’ (Evans, 20-21; Jameson, 45); they sometimes dress him in women’s clothing as well. Dionysos himself was never shown with an erection. This iconographic convention, along with the occasional reference to effeminacy or androgyny, has led to various theories seeking to drastically unman the god, as it were; some writers read into these details the idea that perhaps Dionysos himself was asexual (Jameson, 44), or even emasculated through castration (Kerenyi, 275-277, 285). Jameson, for example, in examining some of the mythic fragments dealing with Dionysos, has arrived at the idea of the wine god as weak, cowardly and asexual – all aspects which would support the charge of effeminacy. (Jameson, 50, 59-63). He cites the myth of Lycurgus, who drove the young god into the ocean with an ox-goad. Francois Lissarrague states: “Dionysos as depicted is scarcely sexed; he is never seen in an erect state or manipulating his phallus.” Another factor frequently cited as support for the effeminacy of Dionysos is his feminine appearance. Early iconography of Dionysos shows him as a youthful adult with long hair and a beard, exotically dressed in a long chiton and himation. Dionysos had to be feminine, for the same reason that he had to be foreign and bestial: he was Other, opposed by nature to the dearest values of Greek society. He was wet and wild, emotional and disorderly, a god of madness and shape-shifting. He could not be a ‘real man’ in the eyes of the Greeks because a real man could not be allowed to possess these attributes. He was a strange god, and a god of the periphery – edging on the dark and unknown. The periphery, the uncivilized, was the realm of women and beasts; hence his companions were maenads and satyrs. His dangerous influence further exacerbated the problem with women: possessed by Dionysos, they became even more irrational, passionate and wild. Liberated by the god, they abandoned their chaste behavior and wifely duties and danced madly through the forests, defying all social restraints. By enhancing those qualities that were seen as the dark side of femininity, Dionysos himself could be seen as partaking of a female extreme; his nature was in some threatening ways even more feminine than that of an ordinary woman. The charge of effeminacy was not taken lightly in ancient Greece or Rome; there were social stigmas and sometimes civil penalties attached to the label. In Greece, a man earned a reputation as a ‘kinaidos,’ an effeminate man, through a penchant for taking a passive role in sexuality or through excessive unrestrained lust; he was not to be allowed to take leadership roles or any active public role in government. (Winkler, 176-178, 188-190) Given the seriousness of the accusation when directed against a man, what religious import could be read into the charge of effeminacy when directed against a god? Dionysos was the only major god to be spoken of in this way; he was thought by many to be a dangerous foreign import, although evidence points to his presence in the pantheon from the Mycenean era. He was seen as a subversive influence, who in his myths faced opposition by kings and led entire cities into chaos and revolt. His religion was always regarded with some fear and ambivalence, almost as a necessary evil.

This is something that I have experienced myself and discussed a while back in Chthonic Dionysos and the Saints of the True Vine:

This Dionysos is dark and still and somber, the quiet amid the storm, the masked pillar around which those filled with his frenzy dance and shout in ecstatic celebration. He is not completely immobile – his movements are just slow like the shoots of a plant triumphantly rising up through the soil, like the gradual formation of stalactites in a cave, like the procession of the stars through the heavens. The face of this Dionysos is always concealed in shadows, except for his eyes which are bright with the flames of madness and gaze into the depths of your soul and beyond. His voice echoes across a vast chasm even when he is nearer to you than your next heartbeat. There is an impenetrable denseness to his spirit, a gloom so black and so full of painful memories that even he has difficulty bearing its weight. He is ancient beyond all reckoning and yet remains unwearied by all that he has witnessed and experienced. His heart is fierce with love for the fragile and ephemeral things of this world, rejoicing and suffering along with them. He cannot turn his face away from them – he must witness it all, even if it makes him mad. And though part of him remains forever down in the caverns deep beneath the earth, another part extends upwards into our world, surrounded by an innumerable host. The lusty satyrs, the madwomen, the nymphs who nurse him and the dead who belong to him, an invisible troop of wild spirits that march unseen but clearly heard in his processions, who race through the fields and forests and city streets on certain especially dark nights in pursuit of the victims of the hunt.

Nothing about Dionysos is simple so we would do well to avoid the sort of simplifications one frequently finds in discussions about him on Tumblr

Happy Equinox 2022

Tomorrow is the Fall Equinox. This is the time that marks our transition from the season of harvest, the tail end of summer and into the time of the ancestors, of Odin, of the wild hunt. The autumn also belongs to Idunna, our Goddess of restoration and immortality. I don’t think it insignificant that Her season corresponds to the time given to us to honor our ancestors. It is through them that we are restored and sustained. 


Of course, ancestor veneration isn’t restricted solely to the fall, and in addition to regular household offerings, some traditions, like the Roman, set aside other times of year for their ancestral festivals too. For us as Heathens however, that time begins now for us and it is a descent, a slow –and sometimes not so slow–winding down into the sweet, nourishing darkness of winter. 


Tomorrow, we will be holding ritual and honoring our Gods and readying ourselves for this new time of year. I would love to know what you, my readers are doing for the equinox (including those of you below the equator for whom this is the SPRING equinox!). 

Hand written phrase Happy Equinox on abstract hand painted watercolor texture. Colorful autumn banner template with hand lettering isolated on white background. Vector illustration.

Pain Relieving Dance – Anacreonta 40

(Excerpted from sententiaeantiquae.com’s post here.) 

When Zeus’ child, Bacchus,
That pain-reliever Luaios,
That giver of wine, joins my thoughts
He teaches me how to dance.

τοῦ Διὸς ὁ παῖς ὁ Βάκχος,
ὁ λυσίφρων ὁ Λυαῖος,
ὅταν εἰς φρένας τὰς ἐμὰς
εἰσέλθῃ μεθυδώτας,
διδάσκει με χορεύειν.

satyr

More Musings on Lineage: Emma Livry (1842-1863)

Lineage is a fragile thing. I think about that every time I think about ballet, and I probably learned more about what it takes to maintain and nourish a lineage through having been a dancer than in all the studies and religious work I’ve done since. Lineage is connection, power, tradition, rootedness, identity, culture, and that culture is directed at maintaining and expressing something precious (be it devotion in our case as polytheists, or beauty and art, a different type of devotion, in the case of the dancers I’m discussing here). It is passed through bodies, through the stories, material culture, and lived experience of one generation to the next.  One generation takes the next in hand, carefully forming them, teaching them, helping them, and entrusting to them whatever lineage and tradition it is that one carries. That is a sacred trust, something to be cherished, reverenced, protected. 

In ballet, it’s not just greatness that is shaped this way, but the endurance of specific choreographies, pedagogies, and ballets themselves. One learns directly from those who danced before one. One dancer teaches a particular role to another, or a dancer begins to teach and passes on all he or she has learned to those students seeking to step into the art, and that is how the lineage and tradition survives. It is terrifyingly ephemeral. Break that chain and you can shatter the lineage. 

It is the same with religious traditions, which is why intergenerational passage of knowledge i.e. polytheists raising children as polytheists, cultivating devotion from the womb is so terribly important. We don’t have the societal structure (yet) to support any type of devotion let alone ours, but we can make our households, our homes, our minds, and our hearts living temples to the Gods one by one. We can restore. There’s a line in the Talmud that says that to save a single soul is to save the entire world. I’d like to think that raising up one good polytheist or being one oneself, or leaving behind a body of work to help the next generation, is similarly restorative to our traditions in the world. Anyway, I’m digressing when instead I specifically want to talk about a break in ballet lineage. 

In the mid 19th century, there were two main centers of ballet: France and Italy. Denmark also had a significant school. The Imperial Russian school existed but hadn’t yet come into the fullness of its tradition. That would take thirty plus years of Italian and French dancers and ballet masters working in St. Petersburg and sharing their knowledge, establishing clear lines of pedagogy, and training up several generations of dancers, each better than the last. After 1863 the locus of ballet moved to Italy and then Russia and French ballet fell into … not oblivion but let us say disregard. I’ll explain in a moment. It wasn’t until the Ballet Russe – shaped by French and Italian pedagogy – returned to Paris in the early 20thcentury that French ballet experienced a renaissance. I believe strongly that part of the reason for French ballet losing its place for close to a hundred years was the death of ballerina Emma Livry (and I will caution you before you read further, I’m going to talk about her death, and it was horrific). 

Emma Livry, my collection

In each generation there are dancers who stand out from the rest, the truly great artists and/or pedagogues. The heaviest weight of a tradition rests on their shoulders and they pass it on to their apprentices and students. They infuse the ballet tradition of a particular place with power, life, and vitality and make it shine like the sun in its glory. In the generation before Livry, the key dancers were Marie Taglioni (1804-1884) and Fanny Essler (1810-1884 – Essler actually visited the east coast of the US on one of her many tours! She performed in Baltimore).  There was also Carlotta Grisi (1819-1899), Lucille Grahn (1819-1907), and Fanny Cerrito (1817-1909). It’s important to note that many of these women were also noted choreographers, a fact that until recently received very little attention (1). The same can be said for their predecessor Marie Salle (1709-1756). While all of these dancers at some point danced at the Paris Opera Ballet, it was Taglioni who truly reigned in Paris (and I think can probably be counted the greatest of the dancers mentioned here, though she and Essler were rivals on pretty equal terms technique-wise. Their artistic styles were almost diametrically opposed).

Emma Livry was Taglioni’s student and protegee. Before she met Taglioni, she debuted at age sixteen at the Paris Opera ballet in Taglioni’s signature role La Sylphide. When Taglioni saw her dance, she took Livry as a student and eventually choregraphed a ballet named Le Papillon (the butterfly) for the girl. Livry was incredibly talented and a noted sculptor at the time, Jean-Auguste Barre created sculptures of her. She was praised by ballet critics and it was clear, even in her own day, that she was the one destined to inherit the mantle of the French ballet tradition, and in doing so, carry it into the next generation. Sadly, tragically – and I don’t use that word often—that did not happen. 

On November 15, 1862, during a ballet rehearsal, her skirts caught fire. At that time, stages were lit by gaslights, not electricity. There had been fire related deaths before due to this, so dancers had the option of fire-proofing their skirts. Livry, as many dancers, declined because the substance used in fireproofing made the skirts stiff, unpleasant, and more importantly heavy. When she went up in flames, two male dancers rushed to help her, but by the time they were able to put the fire out, she was so burned that the stays of her corset (dancers wore corsets when they danced in the 19th century) had burned/fused into her ribs. Her face and breasts were unburned. Taglioni was present and tried to help her as the girl as well, and it is recorded Livry prayed fervently immediately after the ordeal. She didn’t die immediately but lingered bed-bound for months in an agony it is recorded she bore with piety and stoicism, dying on July 26, 1863. She died of septicemia when her wounds reopened (they never really healed) at the age of twenty. She is buried in Montmartre Cemetery. I knew most of this from my own time in ballet, but here’s the wiki article on her. 

Livry in “La Sylphide,” image from wiki (her arch in that standing foot is stunning)

As a dancer, Livry was particularly noted for her extraordinary ballon: the quality of her jumps, the ability to jump lightly and to seemingly hover in the air. Le Papillon was the only ballet Marie Taglioni ever choreographed.

Here’s the thing: the power of French ballet died with her for decades. It’s a noticeably glaring gap in the history of ballet. Many of the leading pedagogues had moved to St. Petersburg (which led to the glory days of the Imperial ballet there, and the Ballet Russe, which returned and repaid the debt to France generations later). Livry’s death, however, left a lacuna in the mid 19th century that no other French dancer could fill. I’m not the only historian to note this. I can’t recall where I read it, possibly here, but other historians have also pointed out that with Livry’s death, ballet in France went into a serious decline (2). 

I will close by pointing out that the work you do matters. It doesn’t matter how big or small it is. It matters even if all you’re doing is choosing to pray or make an offering. In the eyes of our Gods, I do not believe this is insignificant. It is restoration, the whisper of lineage, devotion and in a tiny way, the restoration of our world. Never ever doubt that your lives matter, that the choices you make matter. You may not realize how much at the time.  You don’t have to be a spiritual specialist like a spirit worker or priest for that to be true.  It matters and what you create matters. So, find your devotional voice. Find the medium by which you will bring beauty into the world and throw yourself into it without hesitation. It doesn’t matter if others think it ‘good.’ Pray. Do your devotions. Bring beauty into the world and know that in doing so you are reweaving delicate threads of traditions through which the Gods, I think, are aching to express Themselves. You’re restoring windows to the world through which They can act. May be so always and may you be blessed in the striving.

γινέσθω

Notes: 

  1. Until the past two, maybe three years, there was in ballet circles the mistaken idea that until the 20th century choreographers were male. Even now, it’s still seen as men choreograph, women dance. This is not the case at all though historically. Women, from the earliest significant periods of ballet, like Marie Salle in the 18th century, were choreographers, and noted as such in their heyday. 
  2. The prestige of French ballet began to rise again in the 1920s (after the Ballet Russe re-infused ballet there with vitality). Several noted Imperial ballerinas, most especially Matilda Kchessinska , Olga Preobrajenska, and I believe, Lyubov Egorova began teaching in Paris. Then there was ballerina Yvette Chauvire and Claude Bessy, the latter the youngest child to ever be admitted to the Paris Opera Ballet School, and who later became director of the school. Both of whom helped train the incomparable Sylvie Guillem, and thus the tradition in France was revived, restored, and holds its place today as one of the great schools of modern ballet. 

An Interesting Find for my Ancestor Shrine

So, I’m gallery sitting today (the show ends tomorrow) and right next to the gallery is a book store/antique store. This is my happy place and when I take lunch, I usually go over there for a half hour and browse. Today, I think my military dead were with me because I scored most unexpectedly. 

I’d been in the store last week and this item was not there. Tucked into a corner in the back room was a sword. I like weapons. I have quite a collection of weapons. I studied sword work (Japanese and western fencing though very little of the latter). I had to check this out. No one was there so I unsheathed and studied it. It turned out to be a WWI Italian Cavalry sword. I deal quite a bit veneratively (is that a word? I’m using it anyway regardless) with WWI dead, partly because I have a cousin who went over with Pershing’s forces and didn’t come home. In the part of my shrine given to the military dead, there’s a ton of WWI tokens (I have, for instance, an extensive collection of WWI knives. I’m very tactile and stuff like this really helps me to connected with the dead in question, plus in this case, I like blades). 

Now this is one more addition to the shrine. It’s in excellent condition, has great balance, and feels really nice in the hand. I’ll hang it in that section of the ancestor shrine and call it a day but what a lucky find. Hail to our military dead, to those who suffered and laid down their lives, or suffered and soldiered on so that their children wouldn’t have to (we’re not so good at living up to that sacrifice are we?). 

Here’s a pic of my find. 

My photo, WWI Italian cavalry sword, sitting on a windowsill in Pawling, NY.

Getting into the nuts and bolts of ancestor work – a note. 

Today on twitter someone expressed the sentiment that he kept ‘thinking about ancestor veneration and what that would look like in practice but was concerned about how one would hold the ancestors accountable.’ I tried to find the comment again so I could quote it exactly, but I couldn’t and I’m too tired to hunt anymore. The comment stuck with me though and the more I thought about it over the course of my afternoon, the more annoyed I became. 

Firstly, who are we to think we have the right to hold our ancestors, en masse, accountable for anything? (1) Who are we to think that we are better or more evolved than they? There is a certain degree of hubris in the initial comment, and I think we need to remember always, that modernity does not equal progress. Our ancestors made their mistakes, so have we. The purpose of ancestor veneration is not to express agreement with any choice a particular ancestor has made. Our ancestors were people and none of them were perfect. We aren’t perfect either, and holding up our standards as the apex of moral rectitude has its prideful dangers (not the least of which is that our own descendants may look upon us with horror for the choices we make today). There ARE rites and rituals to call particularly problematic ancestors into account, to bring them healing, to restore them and help them become valuable and contributing members of our respective ancestral houses. Ancestor “elevation” is one such rite (which can also be done for perfectly healthy ancestors as an act of devotion) (2).

Ancestor work isn’t about projecting our own morality anachronistically onto the dead (though we can and should learn from their actions, both good and bad). It’s about honoring family – as far back as we can go, in all its complicated variations. 

Acknowledgment, appreciation, veneration, and respect are the watchwords of ancestor work. 

When someone says, “how do we hold our ancestors accountable for xyz),” I want to ask in return: what have you accomplished? Have you painted a great masterpiece? Have you saved a life? Have you given life and raised a family successfully and well? Have you farmed a field and fed your village? Have you served your country? What have you done that will make you worthy of honor when you too become an ancestor (and one does not need to have children to be an ancestor). Will you have contributed and left the world better, or will you have sought only to tear down customs and traditions that create civilization and that have sustained families and communities for generations? Sort your own house out and be grateful for the help of your dead (3). 

Notes:

  1. As an ancestor worker, I will call out the generation of ancestors who willingly abandoned their ancestral traditions, converting to Christianity. I have flat out said that they have an obligation to their descendants to join the work to make things right and I will commit them to my other ancestors so they can be sorted out productively. This is my one exception to what I note above. Even there, I give the opening for productive restorative work to occur. 
  2. Really toxic ancestors, those who want to prey on the living, or who remain vicious and abusive can be sequestered and isolated from veneration. There are rites for that too, though they’re not to be done lightly. Often ancestors abusive in life, once the burden of their own life-pain is removed, once they experience the Gods, once they are brought to their own ancestors for healing realize the devastation they created in life and want to make amends. 
  3. Many of them are well aware of their mistakes and they often work off that debt by helping us become better human beings. We complicate this generally by resisting them. 

General Update for August

Since passing my qualifying exams in May, co-organizing/facilitating an academic conference on Syriac studies, and then teaching a whirlwind five-week theology course over the summer term, I’ve been taking some time off. Of course, my idea of taking time off involves… well, work, just different kinds of work from what I normally do. 

Right now, I am participating in an art show in a lovely town in the Hudson Valley. I’ve shown my work both professionally and internationally before, but I took a break when I started my PhD studies, so this is the first serious show I’ve done since 2019. I had invitations but painting is very, very different headspace from academic work and I needed to focus on the latter fully. The curator of the show took a serious injury about two weeks before we were due to open, so I and several other artists are filling in for her for the month of August. This means hanging the show, gallery sitting, managing sales and records, and so forth. It’s not my first time at the rodeo but it is like having an unexpected second job dropped in one’s lap. I am, as they say in German, fix und fertig!

It’s nice to be painting again. Check out my Instagram (heathenliving) to see some of my recent work and a current still life in progress. I like taking progress shots and posted two tonight of a still life I’m working on. It fascinates me even now how a painting comes together.  

 I’ve also started to study classical guitar (I promised if I passed my exams, I’d do something new that I’d been thinking about for the better part of a year). I’m loving it, though my arms and hands hurt in new and amazing ways lol. I expected this though. The good thing about this isn’t just that I love the instrument, but that it allows me to connect with so many of my ancestors: the castrati and also the dancers that I honor (I honor my ballet lineage) – because it’s music and of course that dove tails with the world those spirits and I myself moved in at one time, my adopted mom who was a musician, and my great grandmother (maternal, biological) who was an opera singer and pianist. It’s nourishing part of me as well that greatly missed that world (in my case of ballet). I found a marvelous teacher who is very patient and very focused on proper technique and I’m having a blast. 

Of course, I’m reading German every day (I decided that this summer was going to be given over to studying German – I’ve gotten rusty). I need to add Greek and Latin to it as well (lest I lose them) so I’ve started just recently alternating days: German and Latin one day, German and Greek the next. So, I haven’t been totally ignoring my academic work. The term starts Sept. 1 and I’m teaching a Byzantine Theology class so there’s also syllabus prep and such. No rest for the weary or wicked or…something. Lol. 

On the spirit-work and devotional work side of things, I’ve been focusing extensively on the ephesia grammata. I was originally introduced to this family of spirits through a colleague years ago, but they never really clicked, especially since they were presented almost exclusively as useful for divination. I put the knowledge aside and never really did anything with them. Recently however, I and several members of my House received a cleaner re-introduction to these spirits and they’re fast becoming significant allies. This was unexpected and has been taking up a good deal of my time. It’s humbling to realize how much was taken from us in the period of conversion, how much was lost. The haunting process of bringing it forward once more, of opening doorways long forgotten, of restoring cultus and speaking again the sacred names, of taking up again the sacred contracts is awe-inspiring, and I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to take part in this process in whatever way that I have and shall continue to do in service and use to my Gods. 

Recently, I’ve also received an email from a reader asking if I was going to finish my Freya devotional. I’ve had this on a serious backburner since I started grad-school. The request was so fervent that I am moving it to the front of my devotional “to-do” pile. This autumn, I will work on and hopefully finish my novena book – part of my pocket-sized devotional series – to Freya. After that, I hope to do one for Sigyn. So, I ask patience. 

Finally, I’d like to recommend a TV series that my husband just introduced me to: “Reservation Dogs.” It’s a fascinating series set on a reservation in Oklahoma and focusing on a group of young people who are trying to find their way through the challenges of their lives. It’s so good!!! Best of all, it incorporates elements of spirituality and treats the indigenous spirits and customs with utmost respect. It’s refreshing and I highly recommend it. 

Musically, my teacher has me listening to the guitar work of H. Villa-Lobos, so I’ve been focusing mostly on that. I go between that and vengeance country LOL. I love this particular genre of country music. 

Lest I neglect books, I recently finished a fantastic history of ballet in Australia called Dancing Under the Southern Skies by Valerie Lawson. It was one of the best books on ballet that I’ve read in years. It has extensive chapters both on Anna Pavlova and Olga Spessivtseva – both of whom I honor as part of my professional lineage and it’s remarkably well researched. The book is a bit tough to find – it’s not available on amazon—but I got an inexpensive copy on abebooks just by chance. 

That’s it for me for the night. What books, music, movies, or tv do y’all recommend? I’m always looking for good recommendations and love learning what folks are enjoying (just please, no marvel movies. They’re banned in our home by common consensus both for misusing and misrepresenting our Gods and for the anti-theistic attitude at their core). 

July for Loki -for Loki Clever and Cunning

for Loki, Clever and Cunning

You are the fire that burns in Odin’s shadow
The stitch holding the worlds together,
The whisper ever unquiet igniting dissatisfaction. 
You keep us from succumbing.
You make memory blaze and sear
Driving us inevitably back to the Gods
Our ancestors forgot. 
Bright flickering fire
To Grimnir’s icey dark
The two of You brought the worlds to life
(Hoenir granting order and sense)
and You will bring it back to life again:
restoring what must be restored
even if it must be done in blood and fire. 
May we work with the Gods always, 
Grant us that, oh clever Roarer*,
And never, ever against, 
No matter how rough and challenging 
The road may grow. 
Hail to You, Loki, 
On this, Woden’s Day. 


By G. Krasskova

excerpted from this book. 

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July for Loki – For Loki, Friend of Odin

for Loki, Friend of Odin

He Who battles alongside His friends
maintains the strength of Asgard,
using His gifts to challenge the giants, 
using His body to subvert Svaðilfari’s Master.
He pours treasure down upon His allies,
He rains wrath down upon His foes. 
His victory lies in the longest game,
and of all the Gods, not even He
knows its end. 
Bright as fire, slippery as a fish,
drenched in the well-bright, whispered warnings, 
this God comes. He challenges everything, 
laughing around a bonfire encompassing even
His own destruction. 
He knows that with chaos
comes opportunity, 
to turn the final battle on its end,
to grab victory out of the maws of the wolf,
a celebration of blood and steel,
and those who think He lacks courage
know not what His courage has cost. 
Hail to You, Loki, friend of Thor, 
Who works Your wiles in Odin’s shadow
so the Old Man may shine all the more. 
Hail to the fighter Whose wit is a wound
deadlier than poison in the heart of Their enemies. 
May we always honor You, oh God Who finds the loops
in every loophole. Show us too how to be slippery
and hard to catch in the maze of things that would bind us
away from our Gods, stifle our devotion, and burden our hearts
with pollution. 

By G. Krasskova

excerpted from this book.

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