I’ve known Kenaz for years so it was a pleasure doing this interview recently for this series. Like me, Kenaz straddles the line between two polytheistic traditions: Voudoun and the Northern Tradition. The Gods do send us down some interesting roads. He’s written several books including “The Power of the Poppy,” and (with Raven Kaldera) “Dealing with Deities,” and “Drawing Down the Spirits.” Thank you, Kenaz for agreeing to participate in this interview.
GK: Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you come to polytheism?
Kenaz: I was interested in magic and the occult for as long as I can remember. From my early 20s onward I was involved in Ceremonial Magic and Neopaganism. Because I have also long felt an affinity for darker Cthonic energies I became involved in Satanism and Goetia. Had I been born 30 years earlier I’d be what the kids today call an “Edgelord.” I found Chaos Magic thought-provoking at times and loved the intellectual aesthetic of Ceremonial Magic – but I never felt comfortable reducing the Gods to thought-forms, archetypes or things that only existed between my ears. I always knew there was Something Else there and that They were worthy of worship. I also never bought into the idea of a Golden Age when the Gods walked among us. I felt like They were as present now as They were 10,000 years ago and that They still had an interest in us: They did not cease to exist when we stopped worshipping them any more than a rock disappears when you turn your head.
While I have always felt compassion for the poor and disempowered I have never been particularly egalitarian. An important part of our American psyche is that all men are created equal before the law. There has been considerable debate about what that means. For me it means whatever your social class or lifestyle choices all citizens should be given a chance to achieve to the best of their abilities; that all accused of a crime deserved a fair trial before an impartial jury; that all should be treated with respect and courtesy until they prove undeserving of same. (I understand that we rarely live up to these tenets, but that reflects more poorly on us than them). But I also understood that people were not equal. Strength, intelligence, skill, passion, piety – these things were not evenly distributed among humanity. Neither did I have a problem that there were some people who were Called (had a Vocation in the language of my Roman Catholic youth) to the Priesthood while others served the Divine by living their lives honorably and doing your duty to your family, your community and your Gods.
In 1994 I had a psychotic break that left me homeless on the streets of Manhattan for several months. During that time I made contact with a spirit that called Himself “Legba” and who told me, among other things, that I would become a Vodou initiate. At the time I thought this impossible: in March 2003 I was initiated as Houngan Coquille du Mer in Societe la Belle Venus #2 of Brooklyn, New York by Mambo Azan Taye (Edeline St-Amand) and Houngan Si Gan Temps (Hugue Pierre). Since then I have continued to serve the lwa and much of what I have learned in Vodou has influenced my way of dealing with my ancestral Gods. Then, in 2004 Loki showed up and, unsurprisingly, things got very … interesting.
One of the defining moments in the modern Polytheistic revival was Kenny Klein’s arrest on child pornography charges. The Pagan community’s response to that left me – and just about everybody else in the community who identified as a Polytheist – furious and disgusted. I realized then that contemporary Neopaganism’s atheism and relativism were fatal flaws which have real world consequences. I ceased to identify in any way as part of the Neopagan community and began calling myself a Polytheist – and many other Polytheists did the same thing. Today’s Polytheism shares very little with modern Neopaganism: we certainly don’t share our Gods. I’d say we have become a different religious tradition but it’s more accurate to say that we have become a religious tradition since what they are doing owes more to psychotherapy than theology.
GK: You’ve been a staunch defender of Loki over the years (something that I particularly appreciate). Can you tell me a little bit about your devotional relationship with HIm?
Kenaz: My first experience with Loki started as a meditation on Freyja as I attempted Seidhr: instead of finding myself in the presence of Freyja I found myself in the cave. Since that time Loki has been a constant presence in my life. I followed His instructions when he told me to live for several years as a woman. I believed Him when He told me that I would have a child even though the hormones should have rendered that impossible. And in return Loki has brought nothing but blessings into my life, including the greatest gift of all – my daughter, Annamaria Sigyn Estelle Filan. I am eternally in His debt: speaking up on His behalf when he is wronged is the least I can do to acknowledge all He has done for me.
Most Loki-detractors make several fundamental errors about the nature of pre-Christian practices in northern Europe. The idea of “Lore” owes more to Protestant sola scriptura than to tradition. It prioritizes the work of Snorri Sturluson, an Icelandic Christian, over the disparate practices of a region which stretched from northern Scandinavia to the banks of the Volga River. It gives the Eddas a Scriptural authority which Sturluson never intended: it also anachronistically applies the Manichean “Good/Evil” axis to traditions which (unlike Christianity) were never touched by Manicheanism or by any other Gnostic tradition. There were certainly evil wights and evil men in the myths of northern Europe. The Gods could be benevolent, hostile or some combination thereof depending on the situation. But there was no idea of an elemental Evil or of an infernal Adversary eternally warring with the Divine and with humanity: Loki was never a “Nordic Satan” any more than Odin became a “Nordic Christ” because he hung on Yggdrasil.
I identify Loki with Lóður and with the force which makes the blood flow and which animates our world. I believe there may also be some cognate between “Lok” and the low German gelücke from whence our word “luck” derives. I don’t think it is a huge stretch to identify Loki with a generally benevolent but unpredictable bringer of blessings and good fortune. And given how Loki appears in almost every story preserved in the Eddas, I think He was a major God within the traditions of northern Europe. I also think His binding is one of the major myths of our Lokean tradition. His long agony on the rock and the eternal fidelity of His wife Sigyn are powerful if painful foci for meditation and contemplation. And while it sometimes seems that for every step forward we take a dozen steps back into Lokiswives of Tumblr, I am confident that we are seeing the birth of a Loki cultus which will survive and thrive long after we are gone.
GK: Late 2016 you started the rather controversial website polytheism uncucked. What prompted that? What is it’s focus? What do you intend /hope to accomplish here?
Kenaz: Polytheism Uncucked started out with tongue firmly in cheek. After Rhyd Wildemuth declared that Paganism was under attack from the shadowy forces of the Alternative Right, I figured I might as well be the devil they claimed me to be. But as I continued studying I began to understand that I am the product of European culture and a child of the European Diaspora. I realized that to honor the Gods of Europe I needed to protect my ancestral European homeland and my European brothers and sisters. And so I began talking about impolite topics like the Islamization of Europe and the plight of poor White America. I began speaking out against AntiFa thuggery and pointing out the deleterious effects of Postmodernism and Cultural Marxism on our art, culture and interpersonal relationships. Which means, at least to some people, that I became the worst sort of racist. (Insert pearl-clutching here).
Parenthood also played a major role in my “Dark Enlightenment,” “Redpilling,” or political development as you prefer. We live in a working -class area of Newark where we are an ethnic minority. We have never experienced any problems and our Black and Latino neighbors have never been anything but kind and helpful. But when they look at us they see White people: our roots and our culture share many commonalities, but there are also many differences. And so I began wondering what it meant to be White for us and for Annamaria, and realized White was something more than an absence of Color.
Necessity and desire drove our ancestors from their homes: history transformed them into White Americans. We are the European diaspora; we are Europa’s children; we are part of a process that was ancient when the first English settlers landed on Plymouth Rock and part of a people who are committing demographic and literal suicide. Those who came before us may have done great evil but they also did great good. We have lessons to learn from their triumphs as well as from their mistakes. And in any event we have a responsibility to honor our ancestors not because they were good or because they were triumphant but because they are our ancestors.
Vodou, Lukumi and other African Diaspora traditions preserved African religious traditions through the horrors of the Middle Passage and slavery. I believe folkish Heathenry is one means by which we can honor our European Gods and work to preserve our European identity and our European culture. This has nothing to do with disparaging the ancestry of others: it is, rather, about honoring our own. “Woke” Black people and White people have a great deal in common. Both wish to preserve their culture; both place enormous importance in the family and community; both know their people face enormous challenges like poverty, unemployment, violence and despair; both believe the solution to their communities’ problems will only be found within their communities; both believe a spiritual awakening is a necessary precedent to any material improvements. The answers to our problems lie not in eternal conflict and hatred but in mutual respect. “Different” does not have to mean hostile.
GK: Now how do you balance working in two traditions (I do as well): Norse and Voudou?
Kenaz: Vodou is the central pillar of my practice: I use so much of what I learned about approaching the Lwa in my service to Europa’s Gods. My wife (also a Mambo) and I have both had the maryaj lwa: we abstain from sex on Tuesday through Thursday in honor of our divine Spouses (Ezili Freda and Danto for me: Ogou, Damballah and Zaka for her). We have shrines for the Rada, Petwo and Ghede in our home: we have Legba standing at the door to protect us from evil and bring in blessings. I have refrained from writing publicly about Vodou for some time, but that is only because I wanted to make space for Haitians to document their own faith. Right now there are several open Haitian houses were people can be initiated and learn how to serve their lwa: Haitian and Haitian-American artists and academics like Hersza Barjon, Claudine Michel and Patrick Bellegarde-Smith are writing books on the subject. I have 15 years as a Houngan: these people were raised in the culture and have far more to teach than I do. My services in that arena are no longer required: there are better people out there for the task.
By contrast, the contemporary Polytheist movement is in its infancy. We are still building that community and defining what it means to be a Polytheist. (See the ongoing flap about “archetypal Polytheists,” otherwise known as “Neopagans who want to call themselves Polytheists”). I am focusing my attention there for now as I feel that is where it is most needed. There is an enormous hunger for the Gods in our culture, a burning desire for something more meaningful than hollow materialism and blind nihilism. We are a society riddled with impietas: our relationships with our Gods, our communities, our families and ourselves have all gone off the true. The center no longer holds and things are falling apart.
Our only chance is to establish islands of piety amidst the spiritual pollution and to work to right those imbalances – to re-establish what the Romans called pietas. I believe that when we do that we will discover there are many others who are seeking desperately for what only the Gods can give them. Make a fitting place for the Gods and fitting priests who serve Them properly and They will do the rest. That is the public task to which I have set myself: to lead Europa’s children back to Europa’s Gods.
GK: what advice would you give newcomers to polytheism?
Kenaz: The Gods are many, the Gods are real, the Gods are here. Everything else flows from that.
Many people will tell you that you are crazy, that you are delusional, that you are taking this too seriously. This includes many people who claim to be serving the Gods but who are really engaging in psychodrama or in an elaborate live-action roleplaying game. Real piety terrifies them: it implies the Gods they use for window dressing might be real, and might make real demands of them. Their input is less than useless and should be ignored.
This is not a contest. Ordeal workers, horses and Godspouses are neither better Polytheists nor better people simply by their office. The most important task facing every Polytheist is to honor the Gods and to live a life befitting Their worshippers. A sincere prayer offered in gratitude is a greater gift to Them than an agonizing Ordeal performed only to impress the crowd. Ask what the Gods want you to do, then do it. Sigyn assuages Loki’s pain with a battered bowl: your simple life and your humble tools may do greater service for the Gods than you could ever imagine. Live for the Gods and you will live a Godly life.
I have heard many variants of the question “so what does a Spirit-Worker get out of this?” The answer is simple: you get to live your life in the constant and knowing presence of the Gods. There is no greater reward.
GK: What do you consider the most important elements of praxis?
Kenaz: Repetition is very important. The ancient world set its calender by seasons of worship. When you establish a regular cycle of service for your Gods, you create an axis around which your world can revolve. Your “mundane” tasks – I put that in quotes because in Polytheism there are no mundane tasks: every word, deed and thing is infused with the Gods – become part of your ongoing encounter with the Divine. Serve the Gods even when you don’t feel like it, even when you don’t see the point, even when you doubt Their very existence. In time you will internalize this service and it will become second nature to you: you will know Their presence in your heart and in your bones.
GK: There’s an old Russian saying that “repetition is the mother of learning” and I have certainly found that true, most especially in spiritual work.
Kenaz: Cleansing is vital. We live in a society that is full of miasma, where piety is conflated with fanaticism and delusion, where blasphemy is lauded and reverence is scorned. If we don’t cleanse ourselves from that spiritual sewage we will inevitably choke on it. I start and end my day by washing my head, breast, solar plexus, genitals and feet and praying that the Gods may take away that which pollutes me: I would recommend that every Polytheist do something similar. When you start doing this you will become increasingly aware of miasma and be able to either avoid or deal with it as the situation warrants.
Understand that your life is an ongoing prayer. The Christians who ask”What Would Jesus Do?” are onto something. When you live in the constant presence of the Gods you find yourself asking how They might feel about a particular course of action. This is not the “super friends” relationship you see in too much Tumblr spirituality – the kind where Loki is a whacky neighbor and Odin trades off with Dr. Who in telling you about your Important Cosmic Destiny. Rather it is the knowledge that you stand before the Creators and Shapers of Being and the deep understanding of how you should carry yourself before Them. Colored by this understanding, your life and your spiritual practice cannot help but move toward greater piety and balance.
GK: What projects do you currently have in the works?
Kenaz: I continue to work on Polytheism Uncucked and am toying with the idea of writing Europa’s Children: Toward a White American Polytheism. I would like to create a framework whereby Europa’s children can honor Europa’s Gods and recognize their role and responsibility as members of the European Diaspora. I would also like to see an American cultus which would allow Americans of all faiths, ethnicities and political leanings to honor the American spirit and America’s gods in the same way citizens of the Roman Empire venerated the Gods of Rome and the Roman government. And I continue in the most important project of all – raising Annamaria to be a happy and healthy child and teaching her to serve and honor our Gods.
Be sure to check out my other sites:
Wyrd Curiosities at Etsy
My academia.edu page
My amazon author page.
Walking the Worlds Journal
My art blog at Krasskova Creations
My blog about all things strange, weird and medieval.
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(I know that this is going to be a challenging topic for some of you. If you are bothered by frank discussions of religion and animal sacrifice, stop reading and go watch this cat video. Here’s some pussies for you to play with. For everyone else, let’s have an adult conversation).
Years and years ago (at least fifteen if not longer) when I was still Theodish, I remember many heated discussions over the proper way to perform sacrifice. Those among us who were trained to perform this ritual were split about the proper way to dispatch the chosen animals. Some favored shooting the animal in the head first (as a mercy) and others using a clean cut at the throat. One of the reasons given for preferring the traditional method (the cut of the knife) was the story of the Thor and His goats.
Thor’s chariot is driven by two goats: Tanngrisnir (snarler, one who bears his teeth) and Tanngnjóstr (teeth grinder). When necessary, Thor is able to kill, cook, and consume these goats who will then be restored to life with His hammer provided their bones are left intact. The prose Edda tells the story of Thor’s visit to a farmer. He and Loki stop for rest, and Thor (perhaps knowing that hosting two Gods is a bit much for a poor farmer) offers up His two goats in sacrifice to provide the evening’s meal. There’s one caveat: the bones must not be cracked for their marrow. They must remain intact. The farmer’s son Thjalfi can’t resist and cracks one leg bone to suck a bit of the marrow. When Thor restores the goats to life, one of them is lame. In reparation for this, the peasant offers his children Thjalfi and Roskva to Thor as servants. It’s an entertaining tale and Loki, Thor, and the children go off to have adventures. For our purposes, however, the important point is the emphasis on maintaining the integrity of the bones.
In the Theod, we solved the initial debate by choosing to sacrifice in the traditional way (and in retrospect I’m very, very glad we did so). At the time, I didn’t see the problem with shooting the animal first. It seemed merciful and kind but over the years I’ve completely changed my position. Partly, I’ve had so much more experience with proper sacrifice and I’ve become far more confident in making sacrifice myself, and I’ve had far more exposure to other traditions where this is likewise common. I learned several things, not the least of which was that if a cut is done cleanly and correctly, it is actually all but painless for the animal. I’ve also come to realize how crucially important this story is to the ritual scaffolding in which sacrifice must take place.
When we do these ritual actions, like sacrifice, we’re re-enacting our cosmology. We’re bringing to life the communal mysteries of our tradition. A living tradition exists in those currents and it is the obligation of those practicing it to renew them regularly.
This is also largely why I no longer believe it appropriate to shoot the animal before cutting its throat. A) it’s far more humane to cut properly and B) any other method is a violation of ritual protocol. The bones must remain intact. I went back and forth on this for years and I used to come down on the side of shooting the animal first if one felt one must but now, I think that is incorrect. As we learn better, we do better. A sacrifice is more than just a collection of mechanical techniques. It is the living expression of a tradition. It is a sacrament.
For the blotere,(1) there are three parts to any sacrifice that must be carefully learned and understood: the mechanics (how to make the cut and to do it painlessly for the animal, and effectively), how to do the divination to determine how to dispose of the sacrifice and whether or not it was accepted, and the ritual itself, in other words, how to infuse the entire procedure with the holy, how to make the conscious connections between the cosmic structures in which we’re working, the ritual being done, the living tradition, and the Gods Themselves. This is a ritual process. It’s not enough to simply cut an animal’s throat, or kill it in some other way, and give it to the Gods. There is a proper ritual scaffolding for the act, an act that is our holiest and most important of sacraments.
It’s not just that you’re giving a life to the Gods; the act of sacrifice is an imitation of primordial creation: Odin, Lodhur, and Hoenir create the world out of the slaughter of Ymir. Sacrifice is tapping into that, recreating that act, everything that it encompasses, bringing our traditions into being again and again and again and that’s potent magic.(2) It must be approached in a proper way, with purity and focus, and attention to every detail. It’s not enough just to slaughter. We must understand what we’re tapping into and why.
This all came up recently within my lineage when one of my apprentices received inspiration for a sacrificial song. We had long felt that there should be some sort of song sung when the animal is being sacrificed.(3) In fact, it’s rather odd for our traditions not to have one; after all, the ATR have a special song that is sung when an animal is given and so did many Greek and Roman traditions. It was part of the procedure in many IE traditions and it always seemed rather odd to find the Norse and Germanic ones lacking. I was delighted when L. came to me with his song and when I did divination to confirm its appropriateness, the sense of it was overwhelming. Our tradition regained one of its songs. Think about how profound that is for a moment. When our traditions were destroyed by Christianity, our songs fell silent. Our procedures were lost. The scaffolding that supported our traditions was broken. This is one step back to full restoration and that is incredible.
It brings home the necessity, the crucial necessity of re-sacralizing our ritual procedures. It’s not enough to do, rather we must understand how to invest these actions with the sacred and why – otherwise, it’s pointless. (4) We must open ourselves up once again to awareness of the Holy. Our Gods are counting on us. Our traditions demand it.
The next time I take up the sacrificial knife and prepare myself for this ritual, I will think on this: Thor had two goats given over to nourish both Gods and man. Their bones must always remain unbroken and they will be restored to life. As I take up the blotere’s blade, with each offering, I am calling our traditions back to life again, and again, and again. May they flourish.
1. sacrificial priest
2. this article is about ritual sacrifice to the Gods only. Sacrifice for magical purposes is a different matter all together, not covered here.
3. It doesn’t matter to which Deity the animal is being given, or how the animal is disposed of afterwards: the act of sacrifice itself taps into certain cosmic grooves within the tradition.
4. and a mockery of our ancestral ways.
Be sure to check out my other sites:
Wyrd Curiosities at Etsy
My academia.edu page
My amazon author page.
Walking the Worlds Journal
My art blog at Krasskova Creations
My blog about all things strange, weird and medieval.
And if you like what you see, consider becoming a sponsor at Patreon.
The topic this week has been miasma and pollution and how to deal with it. I’ve a longer piece in progress that I was hoping to get done today but that didn’t happen so it’ll probably have to wait until next weekend now. Instead, I find myself thinking a lot about a slightly different aspect of miasma. Most of us within our various traditions (hopefully) have our standard regimens of cleansing before rituals, before approaching our shrines, or after encountering something that carries miasma. What do you do though, when you suddenly and unexpectedly bumble into pollution or realize – oh shit—you’re surrounded by it?
I’ve had this happen a lot because of my work and I started really paying attention to it over the past couple of months. I’ve noticed, both in myself and others, that it can have an immediate (spiritual, emotional, mental, and sometimes physical) effect. What do you do when you read something or see something or engage in some way (either in person or online), or walk into an area that carries or causes unexpected miasma? What do you do when you are, or instance, engaged in a debate and you realize that you’re dealing with a massive amount of pollution? Often it’s not tenable or even possible to withdraw and cleanse. What do you do when you are stuck?
I’m still working this out for myself. I mean, obviously, I have regular cleansing regimens, and then the tradition specific stuff that I do before rituals or tending shrines and for a long time that was enough. I almost think though, that the more we work to be clean, the more this is a priority, the cleaner we become, the more sensitive we get to that which is not clean. Things that perhaps were not a problem a year ago, might become problematic after that intervene time focusing on cleansing. So what do you do?
Right now – and I’m still working on this—I have a two fold approach. First, I have a very specific prayer that I wrote that I use when I find myself stuck or surprised by miasmic things. Secondly, I carry holy water and spritz the fuck out of myself at times. Right now that’s about it, but I hope to develop this type of troubleshooting further. I’d love to hear people’s ideas.
Here’s the prayer that I use. When I asked to which God I should offer the prayer, (I venerate the Norse Gods and the Greco-Roman Ones), I was told Apollo. I wasn’t thrilled with sharing it but I did divination and was told that it would be best to do so, so here it is.
Purification Prayer to Apollo
Holy Lord, cause my skin to crawl away from every evil thing.*
Bright Apollo, far shooting God of healers and prophets,
I offer this prayer to You today.
Holy Lord, cause my skin to crawl away from every evil thing.
Most Holy Apollo,
Klarios, Oulios, Alexikakus,
Who averts all harm,
protect me, oh my God.
Holy Lord, cause my skin to crawl away from every evil thing.
In Your Presence, oh my God,
nothing impure may stand.
In Your Presence, oh my God,
nothing impious may find purchase.
Holy Lord, cause my skin to crawl away from every evil thing.
keep my boundaries strong,
that no pollution may affect my mind,
my heart, my soul, my work.
Boedromios, preserve me,
as I wade into this filth.
Holy Lord, cause my skin to crawl away from every evil thing.
I lay my petition before You, Shining God,
that I may stand in the light of Your protection.
To You, Lord Apollo,
(*this line is every so slightly adaped from the song “Sparrow Falls” by David Eugene Edwards)
A friend sent me a clip from an article that had me just shaking my head. In it, a Pagan was talking about pollution and why she never “needed” to do any cleansing work. Doing so, the misguided author said, would imply that she was dirty.
Um…yes, buttercup it does but this is not a moral judgment. When you take a shower in the morning or a bath at night, is that some grave moral judgment on your inner sense of self? Or your character? Your identity? When you wipe your ass, are you saying your butt is bad? One would hope that you actually do take those showers and wipe. I mean really…and if you clean your ass, as my friend quipped, you can take the time to clean your soul.
This is going to be an ongoing theme. I’ve had a lot of questions lately about miasma. I’ve gained a few insights through my own deepening taboos around purification, been thrown for a few unexpected loops, and I’ve been seeing a lot of really screwed up pieces, like the bit I quoted above making the rounds. I’m not even sure where to begin here.
Miasma is a thing. It exists. It is not a statement about the character or worth of any given person. In fact, in most cases, it’s no more personal than spilling something on yourself and having to wash it off, or tracking mud inside, and having to clean it up. To say that one doesn’t need to cleanse is exactly as sensible as saying one never needs to bathe, that is not at all.
Miasma is a type of spiritual pollution. One can pick up miasma by exposing oneself to things that are antithetical to the Gods and Their traditions. These things can shift a person’s head and heart space out of receptivity and reverence for the Gods. They can also leave a taint. Over time, it destroys our ability not just for any discernment with the Powers and spirits, but even our ability to tell what is good and holy from that which is not. That’s one of the dangers of pollution and our world is riddled with it.
Sometimes though one falls into miasma through actions or experiences that are good: for instance there is a particular miasma associated with the dead. That’s why if one touches a dead body, cleansings are necessary before approaching one’s shrines. Well, visiting the graves of relatives is a good and pious act sanctioned by the Gods. The moment one does so, however, one is in a state of pollution and should really cleanse after returning home. Likewise, there is miasma associated with childbirth. Does that mean that everyone should stop having babies? Of course not. It means one learns the appropriate protocols within one’s tradition and uses them.
These purification rites can also be a form of psychological catharsis, helping one to make transitions back into ordinary life. Imagine how much better off our soldiers would be if they had these kinds of transitional and purifying ceremonies to guide their entrance back into civilian life? Instead, we just leave them in the gutter.
Proper piety is important. It is what enables us to maintain right relationship with our Gods. That’s a huge part of why we should want to be clean! Moreover, extended miasma can cause mental, emotional, and even physical problems, not to mention damaging one’s luck. Of course, this presupposes that one values being in right relationship with the Holy. This is where it starts. It presupposes that this is a priority, that we’re willing to examine our culture and society and interactions and influences and take action when miasma is present.
Now just because a thing causes miasma, does not mean it has to be avoided. Some things are only miasmic with certain types of worship, and with certain deities, or for roles and types of work (ancestor work vs plant work, shaman vs. seer vs. laity—there will be different taboos and requirements). Sometimes when you’re called to work with certain Powers and do certain work, that cuts off certain opportunities. That’s too bad. That’s just the nature of devotion. It’s possible to appreciate from a distance without being able to engage.
Sometimes what we read or watch may cause miasma. It affects our headspace. It puts us in headspace that’s not conducive to interaction with the Holy. This is a bit trickier. No one should tell you not to watch or read something. That’s a decision you have to make for yourself with your Gods and ancestors. Divination can help with this. We don’t want to be, after all, like the Abrahamists who fence themselves off from life and authentic experiences with all their rules and regulations, afraid to read a novel for fear it will destroy their faith. Sometimes also, depending on one’s work, one might have to read things or watch things or go places that put one in a state of miasma. Here, it’s important to sit down maybe with a diviner or priest and suss out how to cleanse oneself, what rituals and prayers to do, to restore oneself to cleanliness. (Just because a particular book or movie might put you out of alignment, doesn’t mean it’s ‘bad’. It might not affect someone else the same way, especially if they’re working with very different Powers and traditions. The key is mindfulness and being willing to consider that even things we like may be problematic and require those extra ritual steps or even forgoing gratification in service to something Higher).
Now I’ve noticed something about the people chirping the loudest about how cleansing isn’t necessary. All of the ones I’ve encountered have been anti-theist or humanist ‘Pagans.’ I think that is perhaps the key here. This is a clash of cultures and traditions. Do you serve the ancestors or political ideology? Do you want to reverence the Gods with your entire life or some human economist? Is this real or is it just something people make up in their heads? Do you value the Holy, or are you hell-bent on convincing the pious that it doesn’t exist (generally by trolling them online)? Those espousing a disdain for cleansing and purification are more often than not, those expressing a similar disdain for the Gods and everything else associated with Them. I’ll let y’all do the math. (If Stalin says that 2+2=5, the party believes that 2+2=5).
What I know is that cleansing is crucial. There is a caution here: against what Christians call scrupulosity. We should attend to all the proper rites and rituals for dealing with pollution, but not fall into obsessiveness or excessive anxiety over it—what the Greeks termed δεισιδαιμονίᾳ.
“It is apparent that superstition would seem to be cowardice with regard to the spiritual realm. The superstitious man is one who will wash his hands and sprinkle himself at the Sacred Fountain, and put a bit of laurel leaf in his mouth, to prepare himself for each day. If a marten should cross his path, he will not continue until someone else has gone by, or he has thrown three stones across the road. And if he should see a snake in his house, he will call up a prayer to Sabazios if it is one of the red ones; if it is one of the sacred variety, he will immediately construct a shrine on the spot. Nor will he go by the smooth stones at a crossroads without anointing them with oil from his flask, and he will not leave without falling on his knees in reverence to them. If a mouse should chew through his bag of grain, he will seek advice on what should be done from the official diviner of omens; but if the answer is, ‘Give it to the shoemaker to have it sewn up,’ he will pay no attention, but rather go away and free himself of the omen through sacrifice. He is also likely to be purifying his house continually, claiming that terrible Hecate has been mysteriously brought into it. And if an owl should hoot while he is outside, he becomes terribly agitated, and will not continue before crying out, ‘O! Mighty Athena!’ Never will he step on a tomb, nor get near a dead body, nor a woman in childbirth: he says he must keep on his guard against being polluted. On the unlucky days of the month– the fourth and seventh– he will order his servants to heat wine. Then he will go out and buy myrtle-wreaths, frankincense, and holy pictures; upon returning home, he spends the entire day arranging the wreaths on statues of the Hermaphrodites. Also, when he has a dream, he will go to the dream interpreters, the fortune-tellers, and the readers of bird-omens, to ask what god or goddess he should pray to. When he is to be initiated into the Orphic mysteries, he visits the priests every month, taking his wife with him; or, if she can’t make it, the nursemaid and children will suffice. It is also apparent that he is one of those people who go to great lengths to sprinkle themselves with sea-water. And if he sees someone eating Hecate’s garlic at the crossroads, he must go home and wash his head; and then he calls upon the priestesses to carry a squill or a puppy around him for purification. If he sees a madman or epileptic, he shudders and spits into his lap.” (Theophrastos, On The Superstitious Man)
Being a polytheist isn’t about having the right hashtags or even necessarily about believing in many Gods. Believing in many Gods is the baseline, the fundamental definition, but we should aspire to so much more. Being a polytheist is also about cultivating in ourselves the type of awareness and character that the Gods would find pleasing. To do that, first and foremost, we must cultivate purity and an awareness of the nature of miasma and a willingness to attend to it. Then and only then, can we begin to cleanly and properly commune with the Holy.
I was talking about wine the other night, and spirits of the land, and the many different ways of rooting oneself in an awareness of all the indwelling spirits of the places in which we live and move and I remembered something I learned a very long time ago.
I’m a bit of a wine snob. I was taught by my adopted mother, for whom wine was one of life’s sweetest pleasures. She had a very discerning palate, and with her training, i developed a palate that, had I chosen to pursue it, would have enabled me to take a sommelier’s training. This was one of the grace-notes of Midgard, a pleasure we both shared.
Until she came into my life I’d never liked wine. I hadn’t been exposed to much and didn’t realize that a palate is something that must be cultivated, and that as it was cultivated it would expand and perception would deepen and a whole new world of taste and flavor, aroma, and insight would open up. When I asked my mom to teach me about wine, she took to the task with a vengeance. Over the years that we were together, she gleefully exposed me to some of the best wines in the world. It was, at first, an uphill battle! I have a sweet tooth and at first, that carried over to a dismaying degree into my choice of wines. I found anything not cloyingly sweet too bitter. So she solved this by starting with the best dessert wine she knew and very slowly and very, very patiently, moving my palate away from the sweet. My taste for reds and whites opened up at different times. The latter came first and took about a year to develop. I can still remember with vivid clarity that day, many years ago, when my palate burst open to white wine. I was sitting in Tour D’Argent, overlooking Paris and drinking a glorious, absolutely glorious 1999 Puligny Montrachet. All of a sudden my taste buds were flooded with multiple notes of flavor. I remember losing myself in a complex, multi-layered smokiness that seduced the tongue and nose, unlike anything i’d ever tasted before. To this day my favorite white wines are still the ones that are rich and smoky. It took another year and a half or so for my palate to open to red wines. That was less dramatic and while I know I was in Italy (probably Rome), drinking a lot of Amarone, I can’t name the exact time or place of that particular epiphany. With the opening of my palate came a growing sense of the spirit of the vine as well and I began to develop an alliance with him. My explorations of wine were grounded not only in deep and deeply sensual delight but also immense respect.
So my mom took me to Switzerland once, wanting to show me all the places that had formed the warp and weft of her world, all the places she loved. We were traveling through a small village near Montreux and stopped for lunch. The restaurant wherein we were eating offered only local wines, grown within a few miles of where we sat. these wines are, for the most part, not distributed broadly and are sold only in the immediate areas. Before I could venture an opinion, my mom cautioned me against turning up my nose up at local varietals. She told me that the spirit, wisdom, and medicine of the land upon which we stood was contained in those wines. It was a distillation of the “ashe” of the land spirit itself, and contained trace memories of everything that had ever happened in those places. It’s a connection, on a very deep level, to the power of the land itself, a very particular plot of soil. It’s a means, a very sacred and holy means of absorbing the power of that land spirit –freely given–into oneself. To taste the wine was to taste the land upon which it was grown. (She also had much to say about why a wine tastes better in its native locale than after it’s been loaded with sulfites, agitated, and shipped to the US, but that’s another tale in and of itself).
She was right of course and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this holds true for every bite of food or drop of drink we put into our mouths. For this reason if no other, homage should be given to the spirits of the land, the soil, the tilled earth, the mulch, the water table, and the entire ecosystem in which our nourishment was born. As the land is nourished so are we.
think about that: as the land is nourished, so are we. Truly grasping that one simple truism changes everything. I know for me, it transformed to a great degree the way in which I interact with the earth. I became much more conscious of what i put into my mouth, where my food comes from, how my local farmers are treated, and the megalithic horror of Monsanto and all the destruction it brings (and not in the name of science either. Hubris maybe, but not science). I found myself radicalizing on fronts that I had heretofore ignored as someone else’s fight. Well it’s not “someone else’s fight,” not unless I suddenly no longer require food to live.
It’s not enough to say “i honor the earth.” Tell me how. What exactly do you do? How does it translate into your everyday Midgard life? Because words are not enough.
My mother taught me that, a bird-boned firebrand, a small, delicate woman with an elegant Swiss accent, a streak of blue in her hair (for Loki–and, according to her, so no one would look at her and think she was without her edges) and a will that would put the mountains themselves to shame. She was a radical: in her devotion, in loving the Gods, and in the way that she adored the earth. That is my inheritance.
Why Couldn’t Cybele Just Restore Attis’ Dick? This is an actual conversation that I’m having with a Christian relative. (#polytheistproblems). This relative asked to read the papers that I’d written over the last semester so I printed them up, per her request and sent them off. Foremost amongst them was my recent article in issue 5 of Walking the Worlds: “Ecstasy and Identity in Catullus 63. This piece talks about Attis sacrificing his manhood in devotion to Cybele and what that meant to him (her?) as a Roman.
Here is the email I received in response:
“G., I just finished reading this paper. It is a wonderful example to everybody to avoid the occult. Messing with the so-called gods (actually demons) is dangerous physically and spiritually. Attis totally destroyed himself in his
ill advised “devotion” to Cybele.
If Cybele is such a great and powerful “goddess,” why could she not have restored Attis’ manhood? A devastating and true statement: You cannot go home again. I believe that in many situations.”
(the rest of the email talked about another paper on Augustine so I didn’t quote it here. Nor did I point out to her that her comments about the Gods being demons isn’t even biblical. The bible after all, acknowledges other Gods.).
Now, this relative knows that I’m a polytheist but it’s like some mental tick. They just can’t help themselves from calling our Gods demons. Interfaith work at its finest, isn’t it? Interfaith work just has a polite veneer over this, but it’s still there.
So what did I respond?
“You took the article where I did not intend. I think it’s a powerful example of devotion. May Cybele be venerated forever.
It also tells you that it’s a terrible thing to fall into the hands of a living God.
As to why Cybele couldn’t restore his manhood: obviously She didn’t want to. That is the price of initiation into Her priesthood and Attis, despite his later existential pain, paid it willingly.
Nor was Her religion “the occult.” It was an international religion openly practiced. It’s still practiced today — there’s a Cybellan monastery not far from me (well, three + hours).
My article was not in any way meant to imply that She should not be venerated, but to point out that all transformations come with a price, that we must understand this when we plumb sacred Mysteries: that they transform, irreversibly.
Asking why Cybele didn’t restore Attis’ manhood is like asking why Jesus didn’t save all the martyrs. Did he not have the power to do so? Did he not care? Or was it more a case of not invalidating their sacrifice, devotion, and faith and the example they provided for the rest of their community. These are mysteries. It’s pretty foul to denigrate them.”
We disagree but I’m not going to suddenly punch this poor relative in the face. One can have decorum in such disputes. Still, this is the type of mental brainwashing with which we all must cope when we engage in interfaith dialogue. Here it is, in black and white. (#checkyourmonotheistprivilege). I have said before that I consider monotheism to be something of a mental illness. It eradicates a person’s ability to see reality and to function in a healthy society. You want to change all these problems we’re dealing with today? Reject the secular (which is really just monotheism taken to its natural conclusion) over-culture. (#fighttherealpatriarchy).
If you have any doubt about this, the situation going on with patheos right now is a good example of what happens when you’re around ‘tolerant’ Christians. They’ll keep you around so long as you’re making them money through your click bait titles and engineered community conflict but the second you turn on them and question their motives you’re gone.
It doesn’t come with a cool pussy hat, but this is the real revolution. (#makinghashtagswontbeenough)
My friend and colleague Kenaz Filan has just posted a beautiful memorial to my adopted mom, Fuensanta Arismendi Plaza. She is venerated by many of us as a sancta and the intensity of her devotion to her Gods, especially Sigyn and Loki knew no bounds. I wish that I had that level of devotion. Her example continues to inspire me and many others.
Love you Mutti!
Read Kenaz’s piece here.
There is nothing better than mornings spent with the Gods, whether in devotion to Them or fruitful discussion of Them. Today was one such morning. My friend Markos posted this awesome quote by Walter Otto on his facebook this morning:
“No single Greek god even approaches Dionysus in the horror of his epithets, which near witness to a savagery that is absolutely without mercy… He is called the “render of men”, “the eater of raw flesh”, “who delights in the sword and bloodshed”. We hear not only of human sacrifice in his cult, but also of the ghastly ritual in which a man is torn to pieces. Where does this put us? Surely there can be no further doubt that this puts us into death’s sphere. The terrors of destruction, which make all if life tremble, belong also, as horrible desire, to the kingdom of Dionysus. The monster whose supernatural duality speaks to us from the mask has one side of his nature turned toward eternal night.”
~Walter F. Otto, Dionysus: Myth and Cult
We both love Dionysos dearly (and if I’m not mistaken, Markos actually belongs to Dionysos whereas while I love this God, I pay cultus from the fringes). This quote encapsulates some core elements of His nature. He is a terrible God, in the old sense of the word, as One Who brings terror.
Another friend Paul C. mentioned that He is also “nice,” and I have to agree: He can be immensely nice and gentle (and we agreed that sometimes that is more shattering than any cruelty He could bring to bear on the transformation of our souls). Paul said:
“I’ll say that when I first started with Dionysus I didn’t expect him to be nice.
It was the niceness of him that was almost hard for me to handle at first. Due to my background of abuse and other unfortunate things I have a lot of self-confidence and self-esteem issues. His acceptance and love was unexpected and clearly not coming from myself. It was hard because of the whole host of new ideas and perspectives that I had to confront As your husband (Sannion) explained it and I think he’s right that was the God’s own way of molding and helping me.
So niceness isn’t always painless like you think it would be. Sometimes it’s more painful than cruelty when it runs counterbalance to what is in one’s head.” — Paul C. (quoted with permission)
Still, as I pointed out, it’s never the “nice” that people try to elide from their Gods. It’s the Power. I was asked to explain and the conversation that followed was meaty enough that I wanted to share highlights of it here.
People will go to any lengths to make their Gods sweet, nice, and unthreatening, to insist that their Gods aren’t savage or vicious, violent or bold. We want our Gods civilized and ‘modern.’ We want Gods we can control, or at least Gods that don’t challenge us, that don’t drag us down into the morass of our own shit and force us to look at it, and deal with it. We as a culture want Gods Who won’t interfere with our lives and the priorities we set for ourselves. We want Gods of peace so that we never have to stand naked, afraid, trembling, and possibly bleeding and snot faced before Them. We want characters in a storybook. Just look at any of our communities.
Of course positioning a Deity as any one thing alone is always problematic. A God, any God is never just savage or nice. They *are*. They are in a fullness and complexity of Being that I don’t really think we as human beings quite have the capacity to comprehend at all. We may catch glimpses, but the totality is too immense for us to do more than gnaw upon. Think about the story of Dionysos’ Mother Semele. When She was tricked into forcing Zeus to reveal Himself in the fullness of His power it burned Her to ash. A human being, as we are now, simply does not have the capacity to behold the Gods in Their fullness. The masks They wear are necessary but every so often, oh every so often we get a glimpse of some of the roaring Power that lies beneath.
So yes, Dionysos is nice. I can also attest He’s been incredibly nice and gentle with me. but …that’s not the part the average person is going to erase in their minds, I think. We know He’s nice. That’s not the part most people want to forget.
I saw this over the years with Odin. Any mention of Odin’s darker sides — and oh, He is a terribly savage God. Anyone who thinks His veneer of civilization and culture is anything more than a carefully calculated mask is deluding themselves.—His penchant for ordeal, His violence, His savagery inevitably led to claims that I was making this God into a sadist. “That’s not my Odin.” (#notallOdins) No, buttercup, but it is Odin. Maybe it’s not what He’s showing you, but it is absolutely His nature. The best of us learn to revel in it. Those who can’t? Well, there’s always British TV, fanfiction, and pop culture.
There’s a movie that several people in the conversation brought up, one that has strong Dionysian overtones: “The Witch.” In this movie, the Devil in the shape of a black goat drives a rather neurotic Puritan family to ruin. Well, they drive themselves to ruin, and the goat just does what demonic goats do. (#goatlivesmatter). In the end, the goat transforms into a man and asks the surviving daughter: “Do you wish to live deliciously?”
We agreed that this is Dionysos.
This is the Liberator. I have my suspicions that many of the medieval images of Witches’ sabbats were cultural memories of Bacchanalian frenzies with all the potential savagery that might entail. (#livedeliciously).
We should be careful what we do to our Gods. One thing I’ve learned venerating the Norse Gods is this: if we insist on allowing Them only one avenue of manifestation, only one mask, They’ll take it but it won’t be the best outcome for us. We will get the Gods we deserve. When we deny Them the fullness of Their being, we start denying ourselves too and as that movie so beautifully showed, repression never leads anywhere good. (#lokiwivesoftumblr).
So maybe let us live deliciously.
Especially where our Gods are concerned.
I was so moved when I read this, that I asked LVB for permission to share it here. One day, I hope the situations are reversed, or at the very least, that we have our shrines and temples and groves peppering our towns and cities too.
Something to Consider…
To all of my Christian, Jewish, and Muslim brothers and sisters: here is a slice of life from my point of view as a pagan/polytheist.
I think too many people take for granted how many churches line the streets, how many temples and mosques stretch across the landscape, how many people have spiritual advisors and pastors and priests and ministers for guidance, when all I have is a tiny shrine at home and a visit to a museum where Gods are treated as fascinating yet primitive antiquities.
It’s strange that, for some people, walking into a museum is a wonderful experience, an opening into a different world while still remaining in the the present. Looking at cool old stuff. For me, walking into a museum is a religious experience. That’s what it was like for me yesterday wandering through the Walters Museum as a polytheist.
There’s nothing like Sekhmet looking down Her gaze at me expecting a physical sign of reverence, or walking through passageways that are sacred spaces holding Gods behind glass, or feeling the watch of the Gods and spirits over me as They firmly command, “Do not disrespect Our Dead” when I take out my phone to take pictures of mummies and of Greco-Roman sarcophagi.
There’s nothing like the tender, encouraging gaze of a Muse who looked down upon me as She planted a seed of strength in my heart. There’s nothing like seeing statues of Venus, whom I worship, and feeling Her smile and laugh playfully in greeting, as if it were a funny sort of events that led us to each other by pure accident like a comedy.
To others, a museum is just a glorified showcase: a place with old, beautiful things that do not belong with cellphones and Netflix. Things that don’t exist anymore.
To me, it’s a temple: a place where my Gods sit behind glass and watch as I struggle to give some sort of offering, watch as They seem to know that I Love Them, watch as I process the bittersweet feeling that the people passing behind me see articles of faith in an act of tourism.
So many places of worship line the streets. There are so many resources for those who have spiritual troubles, who want to strengthen their faith, who want to be involved in community. Please don’t take that for granted, people, because for me, it is a great source of pain that I have to enter a glorified, collectionist showcase – a museum – to look at my Gods. I don’t have a support base. I don’t have an expert I can consult when something Strange happens. I can’t even talk to my friends who aren’t polytheist because, in the end, whether they like it or not, they really don’t get it and it’s not any help.
And it is an even greater source of pain for me that, when I come home, I am all by myself in a world of churches, synagogues and mosques. I am all by myself with my struggles and my troubles, and the people whose shoulders I can lean on aren’t here with me.
Love your Gods deeply, all of you. Love your God. Never miss an opportunity to love your God. And do not take your religious community for granted. Be thankful for what you have. Go to service. Talk to the pastor and to your community when you feel alone and unsupported, or if you want to make a change in society. Take advantage of the resources at your disposal.
Enjoy the privilege of people who believe that your God is real, is good, is loving, is powerful. I do not have that privilege. I really don’t.
So, my beloved non-pagans, come up to the altar and love your God. Pray your rosary. Hold your medals. Do your devotions. Live your way rightly. Read about your spiritual ancestors and read about your theologies that have been written, discussed, developed for over two thousand years – while, in my own faith, scholars are just making the ASTOUNDING revelation that ancient peoples actually did believe in their Gods, actually did love their Gods, actually did have theologies, too.
It’s times like these where I wish I were a Christian – because, then, I’d have a thousand places to go and a million people to talk to. I could turn my head and speak to my friends. I could hold hands during service. I can love my Gods in person whenever I want.
Christians, Jews, Muslims: reflect and love . You guys have it good. Despite problems and challenges, you really, really do have it good.
Because you don’t have to see your Gods behind glass, sitting quietly, catalogued as parts of a esteemed collection – presented as things that happened “once upon a time, long long ago, when people were more primitive and made these idols to cope with life” – provided as evidence that we, as a society, have clearly made progress.
Hail the Gods, forever and always, for all Gods are deserving of love and devotion.
(Reposted with permission of the author)
Over the past few years I’ve been moving more and more toward a more Germanic-Roman polytheism in my personal practice. I practice Heathenry and that will always be my primary tradition, but I also venerate many of the Greco-Roman Gods (especially Hermes, Apollo, and Dionysos). This all started when I began studying Classics academically in 2010 and Odin indicated I should honor the Greek God of language. Well, apparently, give Them an inch…and the rest is history.
I’ve never worried overmuch about working in two traditions. I’ve never been one of those Heathens who gets the vapors if one mentions the words ‘dual trad.’ largely because looking at ancient polytheisms, the traditions we’re trying to restore, such a thing simply didn’t exist. The concept wouldn’t have computed to a pre-Christian polytheist. This cracks me up too. I’ve spent the better part of 15 years studying ancient religion at one level or another (both academically and theologically) and there was a flexibility, fluidity, and polyvalency to ancient polytheisms that I think we, tasked as we are with restoration, can only envy.
If I was living in say, the first century, navigating between Rome and Germany as I do, this is largely how it would have worked: I’d have honored the Germanic Gods of my ancestors, paying special cultus to the Deity or Deities — in my case Odin– to Whom I am specially devoted. I might also honor various Roman Gods, depending on where I lived, what I did, and how strongly the Roman Gods had permeated into my region or I into Roman culture (romanitas). Perhaps there was a mystery cultus or two that caught my attention. If I were a soldier, I might initiate to the mysteries of Mithras, for instance. Then of course, if I were part of the Roman Empire, I’d pay cultus to the deified emperors (even if I were not Roman, per se. The spread of this cultus was one of the means of creating unity through disparate provinces) and on top of this there was ancestor cultus, honoring the vaettir, etc. etc. It was naturally very fluid. We’re not today, and I think that one of the reasons, perhaps the biggest reason that we’re not is that we’re restoring something that has been broken and we want to do it cleanly.
What amuses me the most is that if we want to look solely at written sources, in some cases there’s more written evidence for the veneration of Dionysos in Germania than there is for Odin and company. It cracks me up. So when the Gods started pushing me toward cultus deorum in addition to my Heathen practice I thought it a bit strange, but well within bounds. Of course I don’t mix worship: I honor each Family as They wish to be honored, but it does mean I’m juggling two festival calendars, two offering schedules, two very different requirements for ritual purity and such, which can get a bit overwhelming at times. That’s a small price to pay though for doing right by the Gods.
Polytheism can be messy. Gods don’t always stay in Their neat little boxes and that’s ok. Our ancestors were travellers, explorers, (mercenaries * cough *, I don’t judge :P) and they brought their Gods and their practices with them wherever they went. Likewise, they occasionally picked up Gods and practices. The Roman Empire went everywhere and just as they brought the Roman Gods with them, setting up temples, engaging in veneration, making offerings, and so forth, so they too honored local Gods. We owe our knowledge of certain Germanic Goddesses (like Tamfana) to Roman votive inscriptions, for instance, so we know that they sometimes honored Germanic Deities. It was a non-issue because it sorted itself out in practice.
I think part of restoring our traditions is going to include making room for these blended strands too, because they existed in the time of our ancestors. They are part of our polytheistic inheritance. For me, doing rightly by all of the Gods means rooting myself in my ancestral tradition first and foremost. I’m Heathen and I move out from there. This may mean that in some ways I’m always on the outskirts of the mysteries of Dionysos or Hermes or Apollo, et Al and that’s ok. I do what I need to do in order to honor Them all cleanly. It’s an interesting sensation moving from “Germanic space” into “Greco-Roman space.” It affects everything even down to the way I carry myself (what anthropologist Pierre Bourdeau would have termed my ‘habitus’). That’s something I may need to watch more closely because I think it offers interesting clues as to what the Gods may want, and the type of interaction They expect. We shall see. It’s certainly been an interesting ride.