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A Daily Meditation

Grounded and centered, having offered to the Gods my morning prayers, and having lit incense to the ancestors I sit comfortably and consider the following meditation.

I reach up with my consciousness, through endless boughs of an enormous Tree, and its leaves whisper with secrets. I am one of those secrets being whispered and sung up the gnarled knots of that ancient Tree. It exhales me up beyond the worlds.

We exist within the breath of a God. We ride that breath into being. We exhale that breath back into the mouth of the All Father at the moment of our death. We are tied to everything through His breath and it pulses around us, the steady hand of the storm. I breathe it in down into my crown. I am alive. I am Odin sitting atop Hliðkjalf and I wear the crown of sovereignty. Nothing can separate me from this God. He has knit Himself into my soul.

It is Mani to Whom I reach as I move to my third eye. He is an ancient God and all manner of folly He has seen and dismissed. He forgets nothing and yet He is luminous. I pray that my mind and my heart may be luminous too, that I may rest in the House of the Moon, and may my Sight be always true.

My throat is filled with Loki’s fire. It burns away deceit. It cleanses and renders and because of it I speak true. His is the crucible in which I am ever refined. He hones my courage.

My heart is Sigyn’s hall. She protects and tenderly nourishes all that falls within Her care. She keeps my heart steadfast and the gentle flame of devotion burning within it. I look to Her that my soul might be constant. In such things, She does not yield.

In my gut, the seat of my will, I think on Thor. Mighty Thor with His chariot and gleaming hammer, He fights off pollution. He girds the world against dissolution. He will never be overcome. With Him at my back, I know that I will always be able to align my will with the divine order. Thor will keep me clean, the Holiness He bears will keep me focused.

In my sex lies Freya’s gift, roaring, liquid heat connecting me to life and primal desire. She is Mistress of Sesrumnir and Her blessings are holy. She teaches us to find joy in living. I strive to remember this.

At my root, lie the mysteries of Frigga’s hall. She grounds me in piety and respect, reverence, and power. She is the All-Mother and Her touch makes everything sacred. She roots me deep in the purest iteration of myself and throuh Her all magic flows.

Beneath my feet breathe the bones of the dead. Thousands of generations of ancestors having passed through Hela’s hallowed halls. They walk with me and when necessary lift me up. There is no place I can go where they are not and in times of danger they are an honor guard. With each step I thank them. With each step I am grateful.

In my hands, I feel the echo worlds. In my right hand I hold fire, in my left hand I hold ice. There is the holy chasm in between. All of creation is within me and I see the moment the Gods willed the worlds into being. I stand with Them then, again and again. I am willed into being too with each and every prayer. I am sustained and my prayers fall like nourishing water from the well of memory upon the Tree. It is sustained too. It is enough.

I reach above me with my right hand drawing power up from the dead and from the living earth and down from the most secret powers of the heavens and it is right and good and I touch my brow and chant:

Til ykkar, Oðinn og Regin,

I touch my belly and intone: rikið.

I touch my right shoulder and intone: krafturinn
My left shoulder: dyrðin

I cross my arms over my heart: nú og að eilífu

I bow my head in reverence: Amen.

And it is done.

Krasskova World Tree copy.jpg

(my photo: “the World Tree”. Do not use without permission).

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The Real Allure of Monotheism LOL

You know where I have the most guilt as a polytheist? It’s silly but I don’t like leaving any of my household Gods out when I’m making offerings. If I have a box of cookies and I want to give a few in offering to Sigyn, for instance, I often feel really bad if I don’t also offer to Hermes, and then I think of Mani and then…and then…and so it goes and then I have no cookies left. (I’ve learned to reign this in significantly over the years, but the tendency, the worry is still there).

If I am cleaning and tending for one shrine, making new offerings, etc., I feel bad if I don’t do ALL of the shrines (which is impossible in a single day). Now mind you, I don’t think the Gods care. They are so very much bigger than we can ever conceive of – our cognition is simply not capable of truly grasping the entirety of a God’s being. It’s not like I feel as though I shall be smote (how the hell does one conjugate this verb??!)  if I miss a Deity…at best, I suspect it probably gently amuses Them. It’s not like there’s any sin or wicked act going on here either, Lol. I just don’t like leaving any Being that I love out.

This can be rather funny. My household prays nightly together and often before doing so, I’ll be moved to make an offering to a particular Deity to Whom I then plan to pray. Then it becomes complicated, because I’ll think, “well, T. is praying to Freya tonight – I don’t want Her to be without an offering, and Sannion is praying to Dionysos so I want to make that offering, but then I haven’t made an offering at THIS shrine in a bit…and oh look, that offering bowl is empty.” and it can get out of hand. I’ve been known to joke when it does that here, right here is the real pull of monotheism: having only one Deity to tend! Lol.

I’m not sure if this is all a matter of scrupulosity or not. For those who may not know, this is a term I first ran into reading Therese of Lisieux though I believe it dates back a couple of centuries before her (she lived in the very late 19thc.). She uses it to describe excessive fixation on unrealistic expressions of devotion – I’ve heard it described as spiritual OCD. Usually it goes hand in hand with fear that you are in some way offending your God constantly. That’s certainly not where I’m coming from with any of this, though I keep an eye on it because scrupulosity can be incredibly detrimental to one’s devotional and spiritual life (just as other types of OCD may be to one’s life in general). We shouldn’t need the constant reassurance from our Gods, after all, a desire that goes hand in hand with scrupulosity. I almost think scrupulosity is lack of trust in one’s Gods, a deep insecurity and fear, lack of a healthy sense of self too. Regardless, it’s damaging on many levels. So, I do consider this occasionally wondering if I’m headed in that direction but for me, it really just comes down to not wanting anyone (even when I’m referring to a Deity) to feel left out. Of course, this makes no sense with a Deity but there you go. I often feel weirdly protective of some of Them.

I just woke up a little while ago and I’m about to go and make the morning offerings at the Lararium (the ancestor shrine gets tended in the evenings, but the household Lararium in the morning) so this was on my mind as I looked at the shrine and just laughed, put some coffee on, and went to get the incense.

Salvation???

In one of my classes we’ve been talking about soteriology and someone asked me what polytheists did for salvation. The question brought me up short. Leaving aside the question of what precisely was meant by ‘salvation,’ in this context, I had to step back and think about how we order our metaphysics and where precisely we place them, because the question of salvation is a metaphysical one. That being said, where we position this thing called ‘metaphysics’ (and, I suspect, ethics too for that matter) differs greatly from the monotheistic perspective. We’re just so inculcated with the latter when the subject of metaphysics arises that I don’t think many of us think about how our own traditions may differ. They do, though, and in ways that I consider significant.

In answering my fellow student, I parsed it out as follows: it falls into a three-fold equation with philosophy providing the space for the development of the human being, how to exist in society (and hopefully make that society better), and to some degree ethics, (though Neoplatonists skew the equation a bit: there are elements of mystery cultusthere at certain points, at least I think so),  religion provides protocols for engaging with the Holy, and then soteriological questions and metaphysics are handled by various mystery cultus (which may or may not involve savior Deities — Dionysos for instance comes immediately to mind with Bacchic rites).

All of this means that when someone asks what polytheists do about ‘salvation,’ the only accurate answer that I can think of at the moment is, “depends on the polytheist” and “depends on what you mean by salvation.”

We have dozens, maybe thousands of myths that A) teach us something about the individual Gods and Their natures and B) teach us important lessons about how to be better humans and in some cases C) teach us how to be better humans in relation to our Gods. We also have many theories about what is going to happen to us after we die but to live solely to secure one’s place in the afterlife is, to my mind, missing the point. I know what our religions teach about the afterlife and I know what I personally believe about it (I think there are options depending on the Gods we venerate). I don’t think there is some petrified, unchanging “paradise.”  To live solely for the “prize” of salvation is to ignore the lessons our very corporeality has to teach. We shouldn’t need the implicit threat of absence of salvation to make us decent human beings. I’m not saying that there aren’t polytheistic soteriologies – there absolutely are, but I can’t help but wonder if they don’t function just…differently than say Christianity.  

When I venerate Odin or Mani or Apollo or Hermes, or Sigyn or any of the Deities that form part of my spiritual cadre, I do so first and foremost because I both love Them dearly and secondly because I am so grateful for all the palpable blessings They’ve poured into my hands.  I also believe that as a polytheist, this is right action, it is what I should be doing as a responsible adult. I hope that after death I will be reunited with my ancestors and brought into my Gods – to Them and ever in service—but even were that not to happen, it would not change one iota of how I conduct myself here and now. Perhaps it is a stoic thing: we cannot control what happens after we die, nor truly know but we can absolutely control what we do and how we behave while alive and it is that, those choices, that I believe I shall have to answer for to my Gods and my dead when I pass on. Nor do I think that is a bad thing. It is how we grow. It is how we learn and I do not believe that our Gods are uninterested in our soul’s evolution.

 So, there is some theology for y’all today. I am still feeling my way along these topical lines. I love being forced to think about these things. It’s easy for me to go throughout my day without ever having to consider the metaphysics of our polytheisms – I just want to love Them and pour out offerings. I think it’s important for our theological growth as traditions that we do consider these things, argue about them, discuss them, and keep doing that over and over again though. I would, therefore, welcome my readers’ thoughts as I now wrap up and head to class.

Apollo at st regis

^a cool mural of Apollo that I saw yesterday.

A Concept of the ‘Self’ in Polytheism

In one of my classes we’re reading the Dialogues of Epictetus. This has led to a lively discussion about what constitutes a human being. What does ‘care of the self’ mean in the equation that Epictetus sets up, particularly in book II of his Dialogues where he emphasizes cultivation of character, discernment, and self-control on the one hand and proper performance of one’s social roles and maintenance of natural hierarchies on the other?  I really love his emphasis on fidelity to the Gods, to one’s spouse, to fulfilling one’s roles for the common good – fidelity in general, fidelity as a key aspect of a properly developed self – and on duty and self-control and that by doing these things we are helping to sustain the divine order, the order of the cosmos.

This led me to think (after weeks of reading Plato and Epictetus in this class) about how we as contemporary polytheists define the self (realizing that this may differ significantly between traditions).

For me, a clear development of the self is predicated on being in right relationship with the Holy Powers, and aligning one’s will with Them. It is predicated on allowing that sense of reverence and respect to inform every decision, every possible way that we chooseto move in our world. It is acknowledging that we have a choice and part of devotional living is deciding to make the proper one with respect to our Holy Powers and traditions (particularly prioritizing those things especially). Without that essential orientation, there is simply no fullness of being, self-awareness, or properly developed character. Without that, we are at best semi-beings. (This is, of course, within our control. We can choose to pursue devotion, choose to align our lives rightly, to be in right relationship with the Holy Powers, etc. We’re in no way helpless here. We may have to unlearn certain bad habits and poor priorities that our society has taught us, curb unruly or spiritually unhealthy impulses, or reprogram things we’ve learned in non-polytheistic birth religions, but we can do that. We’ve been gifted with reason, intellect, passion, and the ability to focus. We just have to want to do the work).

If we participate in maintaining divine order by the way that we choose to live our lives and by cultivating a devotional consciousness – which I very much believe we do – then a proper ‘self’ is one that rooted in an actualized awareness of one’s place within cosmological hierarchy and the rightness of one’s duties within that system. A fully developed self willingly participates in fulfilling its duties within that cosmological framework. Without that, there is no personhood.

That’s my position on the matter – quickly articulated while on break between classes. I would love to hear what you all have to say.

A Heathen Take on Gun-Ownership

I work with people who are, pretty much without exception, radically anti-gun. I also work with people who, again pretty much without exception, have never owned nor even handled or shot a gun. Most of them are deeply committed to faith traditions that promote non-violence and most of them are very liberal. From their religious perspective, it is right and good and proper to hold an anti-gun stance. I cannot fault them there. As much as I like most of them, I wouldn’t want them at my back in an emergency. Mind you, I cannot fault them, but I don’t trust them when violence was required). They are doing as their conscience bids. So am I, which is why I stand firmly against any and all anti-gun measures.

While I don’t currently have a concealed carry permit, I do have several guns at home and a pacel of bladed weapons (among other things, I collect WWI and allied WWII knives). I don’t get to the range for practice enough to feel it proper to have a concealed carry permit and anyway, I work and teach in NYC where such a thing is nearly impossible to get. Still, from both a moral and a religious perspective, I believe it is the obligation of every right-minded adult to stand ready, willing, and able to defend their homes, their families, and themselves. When I carry a weapon, I do so in a nod to my ancestors who survived thanks to their skills with such tools (not guns specifically but weapons. With any weapon, the tech is a tool, nothing more) and in full awareness of being part of a religious worldview that values frith– right order—over peace.

After the last few days of learning about various depredations against polytheists (some historical, some happening today), I realize that I am likely moved by one other reason too: I am a Polytheist. Specifically, I’m Heathen. In both cases I practice a religion whose lineage includes being colonized by Christians, conquered, having our religious spaces forcibly violated, our holy relics destroyed, our children stolen away, and our adults murdered when they resisted forced conversion. That is our lineage. The day we forget that is the day we do not deserve to practice our faith anymore. It’s the day we spit in the eyes of every ancestor who fought and died for their Gods, for the space to practice their devotion unfettered and unharmed. I carry a weapon in part as a nod to those men and women, and a promise that should anyone step into my sacred areas with intent to violate them in the name of their God or for any other reason, they’ll very likely exit on a stretcher.

The space of my home is a sanctuary – literally given that I have multiple shrines on the grounds and inside the actual house. It is sacred space. It should be inviolable space for me and my family, just as our individual bodies should also be inviolable to outside attack. As a pious adult, I have an obligation to my Gods to do everything I can to protect that which has been given into my care. Being ready to defend those spaces and the people in them is part of that covenant. It is part of the agency involved in being a rational, right-thinking adult. For me, it is also a religious obligation.

It is foolish to rely on the goodness of strangers and it is foolish to rely on the government for our protection. No one wants violence but to live one’s life blissfully unprepared for it to occur is equally problematic.  Being facile with a weapon is, to my mind, no different than knowing how to lock one’s door at night. In my perfect world, all children would be taught hand to hand fighting and how to use a gun from elementary through high school. Upon graduation, they would have the legal right to carry a gun. (If this sounds crazy, consider that through the sixties many high schools had rifle classes and gun clubs on school property and during school time. Whatever has gone wrong in our society, the problem isn’t guns. It’s just easier to demonize guns than to deal with the social and economic problems that actually lead to gun violence). There is a self-control, a sense of deep moral responsibility that comes with carrying a tool that has the immediate potential to end a life. It changes everything about the way I choose to interact with those around me and makes me far more mindful of my words and deeds. It makes me more aware of how I move in the world. It also makes me more mindful of my responsibilities to my home, family, ancestors, Gods, and community.

Many anti-gun advocates are unwilling and perhaps incapable of looking at guns unemotionally. Many things have been misused and abused in our modern culture and guns are certainly one of those things. It’s all the more disgusting how both guns and bodily sovereignty (esp. for women) have become political talking points by parties that in reality care nothing for their citizens. There is something very, very diseased with our society when young men think it ok to pick up a weapon and murder children. That is not a sign that more gun laws are needed (I think we need less laws and regulation on just about everything) but a sign that our society is sick perhaps beyond healing. It’s easier to fault the symptom than find a cure though but when in shock and pain after yet another mass shooting, I can well understand why many, many people would call for gun bans. I don’t agree, but I understand it.

I for one do not believe it is morally good to put responsibility for my safety in the hands of another. As a pious woman, I cannot do that. As a woman, I would not do that (I saw a post recently that gun rights are women’s rights and I fully support this). The only regulation that I would back is one requiring training and perhaps regular recertification of that training. I belong to a God who is called weapons-wise. When I carry a weapon, I am honoring Him. Yes, bearing a weapon can be a holy act, but needs to be treated with that respect in turn. I have found nothing in the theology of our tradition that would encourage me to disarm and quite a bit that encourages self-sustainability and personal defense. I stand by that. I encourage other polytheists to do the same, in accordance with their conscience and beliefs.

I will add that for the first few decades of Paganism, there was a marked tendency of various denominations to downplay their religious practices and to present themselves to the secular and/or monotheistic world as innocuous, maybe a little quirky, but essentially harmless. It was a survival technique but at some point, that has to stop. We are dangerous. We will collaborate with each other. We will stand up and fight for the right to exist. We will demand parity in public spaces. We will not back down. We are not helpless. For those of you thinking I exaggerate, think on this: a couple of years ago, a priest of Jupiter was hospitalized when his temple to Jupiter was attacked by Christians. Last year, an elderly Greek woman was injured protecting a shrine to Demeter when again, Christians interrupted a religious rite. Temples are violated and desecrated almost weekly in parts of India. Earlier today I posted an article about aboriginal sacred objects being burned by Christians. Last year a practitioner of Candomble was murdered by Christians when he refused to desecrate his own shrine. There’s a Roman saying: si vis pacem, para bellum that I fully agree with. We cannot depend upon the kindness of strangers to protect our sacred places. If we want to have those things, to nourish those things and see them grow into the future we need to be ready, willing, and able to protect them ourselves. I’ve heard it said that people own guns out of fear. I would say that is not generally the case. People own guns because they know they have the wherewithal to protect themselves even when they’re afraid (and for those living rurally, it’s even more of a useful tool. I sure as hell wouldn’t go into the woods without a gun. I have no desire to become something’s lunch).

For all of these reasons and for the simple fact that I don’t see a gun as anything more than a useful tool, I don’t see it as something to fear in and of itself, I don’t see it as the agent of destruction (the gun isn’t doing anything on its own after all), I support gun ownership, responsible gun ownership by people who have taken the time to learn how to use and respect this tool.

To give you an example of how big the divide is on this issue, I’ll share a snippet of a conversation I had today. A lovely woman with whom I work truly, deeply believes that people own guns because they all are at heart white supremacists afraid of the modern equivalent of a ‘slave’ (by which she defined it as anyone the gun owners consider beneath them) uprising. I had to have her repeat it three times because I still can’t see her logic there but then this isn’t a subject upon which people apply logic, not when hyperbole and sentiment will do. This person (and I like her. She’s creative, interesting, and a pleasure to work with) truly believes that the world will be better if guns are banned. I very much do not hold that view. How the hell do you find middle ground there? For me, guns are like condoms and attorneys: better to have it and not need it than the opposite.

The Basics BEFORE the Basics

 

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?

We Don’t Own the Gods

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 the Holiness of the Powers

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. 

mathias nordvig kami post

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

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

The interview is available here

 

 

Food is Sacrifice; Cooking is Sacred

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.