Yesterday, my husband and I were out and about and we decided to stop for lunch at Dutchess Diner in Poughkeepsie. We left ill and in my case, pissed off. The food was, quite simply inedible: tasteless, unseasoned, and gross. It actually made my husband sick to the point of vomiting because it was so poorly thought out. Now, usually I’d just file this under ‘never eat there again’ and be done with it, but it irritated me to the degree that I realized it crossed into space that violated my food taboos and I have many, particularly surrounding food (this is one of the joys of being a priest and vitki: one acquires various taboos and, to use an Irish term as there isn’t one that I know in English, gessa. In other words, there are things I cannot do in service to the Gods and things I must, respectively). Hospitality and food specifically are huge areas where quite a lot of sacred things come together.
Firstly, food is fucking sacred. Be it plant or animal something has laid down its life to sustain ours. It is the predator-prey cycle. And for all those vegetarians who feel morally superior to everyone else because they don’t consume flesh, consider this: science has proven that not only are plants sentient in their own way, but they know when you’re about to cut and kill them. I read one article years ago that said one study showed they even scream. We just can’t hear it. (My gardener friend just told me that the smell of cut grass is grass warning other grass and plants that cutting is coming, because they are being slaughtered. Again, there were a couple of studies done. They exude chemicals when they are dying that is akin to crying. They cry as they are dying). You do not actually have the moral high ground. It’s a good lesson about how we shouldn’t prioritize one form of life over another. It’s ALL valuable. It’s all full of consequence.
This is one of the Vanic mysteries: to draw sustenance from the land and to give back to the land in return. To grow something, tend it, nourish it, and then consume it drawing upon its nourishment is a powerful cycle. Modernity has utterly corrupted it, removed us from the land, from the slaughter of our own animals, from the tending of our own crops, from buying meat and crops grown naturally and by our neighbors. We fill our food with chemicals and by- products and utter shit to the point it no longer qualifies as food. It’s obscene. The corollary is that we also don’t really give a shit anymore about properly preparing it. Far too few learn from their parents how to cook and maintain a home.
To prepare food is a grace, an honor, an expression of hospitality. It is nourishment, of course on the basest level, but spiritually ever so much more. Cooking is alchemy. It’s a combination of elements to product, through some weird chemical process, a different, more nourishing whole. To show disrespect for food is to show disrespect to the Gods. Part of being respectful is learning how to cook properly. This includes cooking for yourself; and as with allowing media to take up space in one’s mind, being mindful of what ingredients one uses, of what one allows to take up space in one’s body is equally important. Worry about the integrity of the food rather than the calories. Just eat less of a portion of actual food. You may find you need and want less.
I’m going to digress here for a moment. Let me talk about salt. Salt was a prized commodity to some of our ancestors. It was precious. They knew its value. They hadn’t yet been exposed to a corporate pseudo-health industry trying to convince them that man-made chemicals are better, or that food should be left ill-prepared. Salt is magic. Salt brings out the flavor of food, particularly meat. It must be added during the cooking process, NOT after, for the proper chemical and alchemical process to happen. Adding it after cooking will not work. Apparently, it’s the fad now to cook everything, including meat without salt. It’s positively disgusting; it’s like eating cardboard. Now, I understand moderating one’s salt but if you’re not willing to cook a thing properly than just don’t cook it at all; it’s the same with butter. Margarine is filled with chemicals. It’s gross. Use butter and if you must be careful, use less. Substituting good, natural, wholesome ingredients with processed shit is like spitting in Frey’s face.
This is why it drives me crazy when people (who haven’t been properly brought up, i.e. had parents who for whatever reason didn’t teach them how to handle themselves in a kitchen – and there are many reasons this may happen, including the parents not having been taught themselves) try to take short cuts in the kitchen. Stop. Just stop. Do things as they are meant to be done. If you don’t understand the process, trying to experiment or take short cuts is a quick road to disaster. Learn how to do things properly.
When I cook, I am honoring my ancestors, every last one of them who did this every day to feed themselves and their families. I am forging and re-forging a connection to them through the work of my hands. When I cook, I’m honoring the Vanir and often pray as I prep my food, because everything I’m doing is possible because of Their gifts. To walk into a place and pay money – also something sacred, a form of nourishment, a thing with transformative power ruled by the Duergar—for something poorly prepared, treated with utter lack of care, disdainfully and foolishly is a violation of every one of those tenets. It goes right back to the old maxim: if you can’t do something right, don’t do it at all.
For those wanting to better their cooking skills, I recommend taking a couple of classes from a local culinary school if you can afford it (they often offer classes for the lay person). Otherwise, there are youtube videos, magazines, grandmothers—not necessarily your own. Old people, know things lol. ;). Get a good set of knives, a good skillet, a cooking pan, a mixing bowl, and a crock pot (a great book to start with is Make it Fast, Cook it Slow which offers 365 recipes for the crock pot), mixing spoons and cups (they are not the same). Also, when working on a budget, it’s better to use simple ingredients that are real, like beans and rice and a lot of flavoring than to buy a bunch of processed, frozen crap or fast food, even if that can be deceptively filling. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Yes, mistakes will happen and some things as you learn will be inedible. This is ok. It’s part of the learning process and it’s a far cry from presenting to guests something that should be edible but isn’t in the mistaken guise you’re competent.
Each quarter, my household donates to various charities. In the autumn and winter, we tend to focus on veterans’ organizations and charities like Paralyzed Veterans of America and the British Legion. Those are two that we really like (and I am open to suggestions of others).
In the spring and summer, we tend to focus more on educational charities and food/agricultural things. We’ll donate to Heifer (you can buy bees for people! My favorite thing. : ) ), Big Sur Land Trust (my adopted mom’s favorite place), and one that many of you might not be familiar with, and the reason I’m mentioning it now: DonorsChoose.
A high school teacher told me about this charity years and years ago and I really like it. Teachers can post projects that they are doing for their classrooms, for which they otherwise have no funding (because let’s face it, our educational system in this country is quite broken). It allows these teachers from all different grades and disciplines to open up their projects to outside donations and it’s lovely. So I’m posting largely to recommend this one to readers who may be looking for a way to support teachers and their work.
That is all. Let me know what charities you guys recommend. (What i’d really like to see is a polytheist run and focused charity, non-political, that focuses on helping those with long term illnesses and injuries with their medical costs. We’re not there yet, but maybe one day we will be).
Honoring one’s ancestors isn’t just a metaphor. It isn’t about chanting their names and pouring out libations (though these things are good in and of themselves as a place from which to begin). At its core it means shouldering their debt, digging into it, eating their pain and spitting up their bitterness and finding a way out and through—for them and for yourself—to healing, reparation, and wholeness once again.
We have no humanity without our ancestors and we carry their sufferings in our flesh, in the scarred skin of our minds, in every strand of our DNA, in the rough deep well of our memories collective and unconscious. It marks our bones, twists our marrow and in the end it lifts us up. Through it all, they elevate us just as we through our rites and prayer and the grace of remembrance seek to elevate them. We carry our dead with us always and they too bear us upon their backs. It begins and ends with our dead and they can carry us to our Gods as well. They have sacrificed themselves for our enfleshment. We can shoulder the weight of their lives.
One of the things that my tradition does of late is, at the start of each season, honoring a specific Goddess. That is not the only Deity that will be honored during this time – month to month, on holy tides, in personal devotions we honor many others, for instance, November belongs to Odin for me—but this is specifically for the seasonal shift. There is something in the power or what the Greeks would call the timai of the Goddesses that we’ve chosen that echoes the energy of the season.
At the start of the Autumn we honor Idunna. This is purely instinctive in our household – there’s something about the magic of Autumn that really calls Her to mind for us. And even though it’s a time when the earth is getting ready for its winter sleep, it’s that very sleep that brings about renewal in the spring. Usually in early September, we do a rite to honor Her for the quarter.
Winter was more difficult. In early December this year we did our rite to Frau Holle. This was a time when we were all focusing on internal household preparations for Winter and so, this seemed appropriate. I could also see honoring Skadhi at this time as well, particularly if one were outdoors a great deal. Our focus on this, however, is the preparation of the household throughout the seasons and attuning it appropriately so we went for this quarterly rite, with Frau Holle.
In early March, we honor Hrethe as a matter of course as a Goddess of March, but the Goddess that seems to dominate Spring as a whole for us is Ostara (or Eostre—same Deity, one name is Old Norse, the other Old English). It is to Her that our quarterly venerations go and we usually do that on the holy tide that bears Her name.
Then in Summer, in early June, we honor Sif and look to Her to govern the cyclical aspects of the season. Much of the household preparation we do throughout the season is dedicated to this Goddess, particularly things like maintaining a sustainable garden and pantry. This has made us overall, far, far more mindful of necessary household rhythms and of ways to connect the work we do in fulfillment of those rhythms to veneration of our Gods.
In last month’s newsletter, I posted about my recent interview with Sarenth and Jim on their podcast Around Grandfather Fire, but I don’t believe I mentioned it here. I gave a fairly long interview and had a great time. They asked some deeply insightful questions and I think the convo is worth a listen, which you, my readers, may do here. They have a whole index of interviews that you can listen to on various topics of interest to our traditions .
I don’t often talk about this, but I’ve spent the morning in conversation with a friend about the issues that can arise while being in grad school with chronic pain and disability. It occurred to me that this is a topic worth discussing in the realm of devotion too. How does one engage in consistent devotion when there are days that pain is so bad one can barely get out of bed?
I deal with this every day. I have severe damage to my spine, the result of a ballet career that ended in my twenties through injury. I have, as a result chronic, debilitating migraines, trouble walking on some days, and fibro myalgia. I’m a hot mess most days and some days the pain is bad enough that my world is a fog of hurt, every joint on fire, and I don’t leave my bed. I know plenty of people who have it even worse. Most days, I’m relatively mobile and I’m grateful for that. To say that this doesn’t impact my devotional practices would be ludicrous. It does, absolutely. It does not however, excuse me from them.
I don’t usually talk about this because to me, it’s not really relevant to whether or not I do what I need to do. I find work arounds. When I can’t do ritual, I can pray. When I can’t pray, maybe I can read and meditate on a text (though it’s hard to find a time when one can’t pray). If I want to make offerings but physically can’t, I’ll ask my husband or our house mate to help. I have certain baselines – like a few set prayers that I have memorized – that when I can do nothing else, I can do that. Then, there is always quiet contemplation of the Gods. That has benefit too. I set goals for myself, things that I very much want to do for my Gods and ancestors. I strive to reach those goals, but when I can’t, when my physical condition interferes, I don’t fret. I do what I can and pick up where I left off when I’m more mobile. I think it’s important to set high devotional goals and constantly strive to meet them, but bodies do as bodies do and those goals are lifetime goals to be worked toward, always, even if we never manage to meet them. We can always work on building better devotional habits.
Part of doing that, is to have variance in one’s practices and radical honesty with yourself and with your Gods. It’s very, very easy to use one’s disability as an excuse to do nothing, to skive off of one’s devotional practices. This isn’t the way to go. We can always make excuses for ourselves; that’s the easiest thing in the world. One of the hardest is to admit one’s weaknesses or damage and do as much as one can anyway, even if it’s less than what one wanted. Some days that may be a simple spoken prayer, ‘I love you oh my Gods. I cannot do more now, but when I can, I will. I thank You for your blessings.’ But the corollary to that is that when you are able to do more, do it fervently, with love and devotion and most of all gratitude.
My practice varies considerably from day to day, depending on which Deities I’m honoring, what type of devotion I’m doing, and what my physical condition is. It also matters whether I’m working for clients or am engaging in my own practices for myself and my household. In each, I try to do the most that I can do. When I can’t, I can’t and I don’t beat myself up about it (well, maybe I do a little but that’s a hard behavior to unlearn for a perfectionist). Tailor your practices to your physical abilities but don’t cut yourself any unnecessary slack. Good devotional work is a habit, and habits take work. Being physically compromised doesn’t mean you can’t do that work, you just have to work with your body, gently but persistently and know that this is enough.
When you are contacting someone for religious advice, for advice on how to do polytheism well, for advice about your Gods, resources, or anything else for that matter, regardless of what bona fides that person has or says that they have online, you need to consider the nature of what you’re told, and where that advice will ultimately take you.
If the person you contact is suggesting things that would draw you away from the Gods, that would cause you to prioritize other things, that would cause you to avoid the development of spiritual virtues, that would limit your devotion, or even that would pull you away from venerating a particular Deity for any reason whatsoever, think twice.
Just because someone claims to be an expert doesn’t mean they are. Look to the results of what you’re being told. Will it make you a better devotee of your Gods, a better human being, more devout? Will it cultivate piety? Will it help you approach your Gods more mindfully, more cleanly? Or are you being given advice to ignore those things, to take the easy way out, to do what feels good to you – regardless of whether it is useful in your devotion and development or not? Will it enhance your understanding and practice of your tradition, or not?
I think that we are meant to be people of worth before our Gods. We are meant to develop within ourselves the habits and character that will allow us to honor Them rightly and well. I very strongly believe the Gods want us to be healthy human beings, spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, and insofar as is possible (because bodies suck lol) physically and the key to that is centering oneself in the ancient contracts of honoring our Gods, our ancestors, and the land. I believe it is through our devotion that we become fully realized human beings and honoring our Gods fervently is good and right and true. I believe that the problems that arise are often due to a disjunction between proper devotion, a worldview steeped in piety, and the degradation and emptiness of our modern, anti-theistic world.
Nothing, not politics, opinions, personal differences and divides should impact the answer to the only question that matters: will what you’re being told increase your capacity to love the Gods even more? Will it make you better in your devotion or not? You don’t have to like the person who is giving you advice – this is not about us after all. It’s about building our traditions and getting better at honoring the Gods and if someone’s advice helps me do that, I will heed it. Personalities and politics are pointless in the face of that. So, consider your priorities and maybe allow for the remarkable thought that your Gods may not share them.
Last week I had a FB discussion with a former Heathen, who has since left Heathenry to become agnostic. We were arguing over the death of that missionary who tried to pollute the Sentinalese. I considered his death well deserved and my interlocutor disagreed. I had assumed that I was arguing with a co-religionist but it was almost immediately apparent that our worldviews were drastically different and finally it came out that he was agnostic. He had left Heathenry because the community was mean (whine whine), and there were white supremacists, and blah blah SJW talk blah. Dealing with Heathens of all different approaches and opinions apparently proved too much of a challenge to his “progressive” values. Ok fine. Bye and don’t let the door hit you on the way out. I wish you well. But I also said that our disagreement, in light of this, made perfect sense. At which point, he first starts trying to explain why he’s become agnostic (I do not care. In fact, I could not possibly care less why you chose to abandon your Gods and I certainly don’t want to hear your life story unless you’re paying me to provide pastoral counseling and probably not even then) (1) and when that wasn’t well received, opined “don’t you think my path is as valid as yours?” um, no, I don’t.
Firstly, it’s a mistake to fetishize community. Yes, we all want it. Yes, it’s important. It is not, however, equal to the Gods. Religion is all about being in right relationship with the Gods. That a community is not, should not impact the faith of the individual. That’s a hard thing, I know that but I don’t think anyone should belong to a particular religion solely because of the community. People are fallible and it’s inevitable that at times they will disappoint, sometimes deeply. One’s faith should not rest on the infallibility of any human creation. One’s faith should instead rest on experience of the Gods and ancestors, devotion to Them, and a commitment to veneration.
Secondly, why on earth would I consider an agnostic (or atheist, or anything else, including other religious positions) point of view as valid as that of polytheism? From the perspective of devotion, it’s simply not. One either believes in one’s tradition and Gods and values those things as the highest good or one doesn’t. If one does, then that is obviously the healthiest and best position one might hold; and while I may not condemn someone for making a different choice, neither do I have space for them in my emotional or spiritual world (and we’re not even talking potential miasma). From the perspective of faith, all religions and choices are not actually equal and what’s more, they don’t have to be. We are not, after all, attempting to build one overarching religion. Everyone does not have to agree. I think we’ve all been brain washed by a society that elevates “tolerance” over everything, including moral courage. I prefer “respect.” I respect your right to follow a different tradition. I will even fight for your right to do so. I do not, however, have any need of your company and I may think you are very misguided, foolish, and possibly deluded in my heart of hearts.
Finally, as a person of faith – at least on my good days ;)—I don’t see the point of allowing those who do not share my worldview to take up cognitive space. I’d rather expend my rather limited energies on building up a devout community, on engaging with co-religionists, and on doing what I can to honor my Gods and ancestors. I remain astounded that someone would think that I would consider any other faith or lack thereof to be equal to polytheism. Our traditions are not interchangeable after all. Our Gods actually matter.
- Inevitably those who have chosen lack of devotion and impiety insist on explaining themselves, but this is usually merely a means of gaining our support and approbation. There’s really no reason to care. I’m not in the business of proselytizing. Nor am I in the business of encouraging atheists and agnostics to proselytize in my presence. I kind of side with the Sentinalese on this one.
For one of my classes, I recently had to read Robert Orsi’s Between Heaven and Earth. In one of the chapters, Orsi discusses the impact of Vatican II on devout Catholics. Now, I personally think that Vatican II was one of the biggest mistakes the Catholic Church ever made (pandering to Protestants in the name of ecumenism, excising devotion, Marian cultus, saint cultus, and embodied devotional practices, putting the mass in the vernacular, easing up on regulations binding priests and especially nuns, devaluing the latter almost all together) and we in other traditions can learn quite a bit about what not to do from it as we engage in our respective restorations. It was a surrender to secularism and modernism and the end of the Church as a functional entity. It was also an outright attack on devotion. That being said, as part of his work, Orsi discusses several interactions with clergy on the matter of lay devotion and it’s that which I wish to discuss.
One chapter discussed a priest, post Vatican II, who was so against any aspect of devotion that he talked about the immense disgust and rage that he had whenever he saw statues of the saints or Mary, or any old school devout Catholic practice. He told Orsi that he wanted to destroy the statues and sacred images and spewed an immense amount of vitriol toward the very idea of actual devotional practices. This is a priest saying this, someone who ought to be encouraging devotion. It was striking and one of the most polluted things I’ve had to read this year. The account involves a Father Grabowski and occurs on p. 56-57 where we have a priest encouraging desecration and sacrilege — in the name, of course, of progress. “’The urge to destroy…haunts me’” Father Grabowski confesses” (57). He is talking about seeing statues of saints, and in the same paragraph, a statue of the Virgin. Time maybe to call an exorcist.
Disgust, aversion, and especially rage toward things associated with devotion or the sacred is one of the first signs at best of spiritual pollution and at worst of demonic obsession or even possession. What so many Catholics would term the demonic, I tend to see as an extension of what some of us term “the Nameless.” Evil exists, evil being that which is categorically ranked against the order that our Gods have created and that They work to maintain. It doesn’t matter what it’s called. It is insidious. It is the thing that we must ever and always guard against in our spiritual lives. It may have only the openings we give it, but it is very, very good at conniving to have us give those openings.
When holy things, devotion, and other sacred things begin to cause a reactive response of rage and disgust, an urge to destroy, that is a serious warning sign. I’ve gone through this myself, time where being in the presence of the sacred has been like razor blades down the skin of my mind, and every single time it has been an attempt to derail my work, to put a wedge between me and the Gods, to pollute. I have regular cleansing practices and this is one of the reasons. After the first time I noticed this, once I took care of it, I heightened those protocols to prevent just such a thing. With those cleansing practices in place, it’s much easier to recognize this state of spiritual emergency and deal with it as soon as possible. That’s exactly what it is too: a spiritual emergency. In better times, I might feel sorry for this Father Grabowski that he lacks appropriate spiritual direction to overcome this, but with things being as they are now, I’m just disgusted. It’s not just that one person may feel disgust, part of their poisoned state is a desire, no, a needto spread that poison as far as they possibly can, and to destroy devotion wherever it might be found.
This isn’t something that only affects specialists either. Lay people are every bit as susceptible. This is one of the many reasons why having a good prayer practice is so incredibly crucial. It realigns us every single time we choose consciously to engage, even if we do so imperfectly. Sometimes we must fight our way to the Gods inch by bloody inch, against the press of “progress” that would cast our devotion as superstition, against “modernity” that would urge us to abandon belief and practice, against evil.