I woke up this morning to find this article on my facebook feed. It’s something I never, ever, ever, ever, ever imagined I would see the fucking pope saying. First, go here and read the article. Watch the video there too, so you can make up your own mind.
Apparently Catholics no longer believe that Jesus is the unique redeemer – you know, like the New Testament says (it’s somewhere in John) not to mention the entirety of their tradition. Now, all roads lead to the same goal. Now, I don’t believe squat about Jesus. I’m a sensible, educated, devout polytheist. I’m not deluded. They are and have been for two thousand years. That’s been the single defining characteristic of their tradition. Well, their Marxist pope just tossed that all to hell now, possibly by their theology, literally. I think this is the guy who abolished limbo after all. Not too many places for them left to go.
Now, he has pretty much declared that there is no difference between any religion (except of course, for indigenous or polytheistic religions. We’re still fair game for evangelization). I was suspicious of this guy for a long time, especially when he kept making these social justice statements, that all of my Pagan and Polytheist friends were applauding. I wasn’t, because I saw this is just incipient Marxism and that inevitably leads to the subjugation of traditions. When it comes down to it, they’re always going to have to make a choice: which is more important, the religion or the politics and politics inevitably wins (when you’re a Marxist). That may be ok for a freshman in college, but maybe not the head of a world religion. The uniqueness or exclusivity of a tradition is part of the tradition (a lesson we as polytheists really need reminding of on occasion).
If this Pope decides to further water down Catholicism – you know, the tradition he is tasked with protecting and defending—into further nothingness, we are going to be left with the Protestant crackpots. Catholics, once they got over the whole inquisition thing, have pretty much been preservers of Western tradition, art, and values – all of which they stole from polytheism granted. Anglicans likewise have held this position. That’s not the case with the crazy Protestantisms: dominionists, end times fatalists, bible thumpers, etc. They want to bring down the world and remake it in the image of their repressive, life-hating pseudo-theology. Just like Muslims and SJWS. Oh hey, look: a new alliance is formed. Always mistrust the radical.
But on the plus side maybe all the SJWs in Paganism and Polytheism will flee into the Catholic Church and we won’t have to deal with them damaging our traditions anymore. Or, maybe we should start evangelizing these displaced Catholics. They already have the basics of piety and cultus down and their own Church has abandoned them. We just have to teach them to count beyond three.
I’ve been on the road most of today with my friend Allen. (My husband is cheerfully holding down the home front. I told him to enjoy the quiet. I return Saturday lol). We just got into MA where I will be teaching a series of workshops tomorrow and Saturday morning. There’s been a nice uptick in work lately and I”m looking forward to meeting all the students with whom I’ll be working over the next two days.
We had a bit of luck too on the way up. I’d forgotten about the Traveller’s Book Cafe in Union, Ct…you can eat (very good food) and buy used books. I love this place. Every time I visit my friends in MA, it’s the highlight of the road journey. I just happened to remember it and mention it to Allen as we hit Union and we were able to stop there for lunch and i found *treasure*. Oh my Gods, I love books. I have since I was a child. They bring me such satisfaction and joy. Inner peace for me is a library. (well, my library. I”m not so much into giving books back. heh). I even found two new books by an author I used to read years ago, whom I thought had stopped writing. As i said: treasure.
The hotel is better than I remember it (it’s been taken over by Hilton) and I have plenty of time to prepare. I made a quick update in my patreon supporter posts and I’ll have a few hours to work on the Eir novena booklet. It’s strange being here. So many important milestones in my spiritual life involved me straggling back to this hotel in various states of shock and awe. It feels, as these things so often do, like a lifetime ago. Maybe, in some weird way it was.
I know I owe a pacel of you emails…I’m afraid I have to ask for a bit of patience. It was a rather rough week pain wise and I fell behind again. I shall, however, be catching up this weekend….and so it goes.
There is a very shy man who occasionally comes into the gallery. He is interested in learning more about art but is very self-deprecating of his own experience and interests. He’ll hover in the background until it is only him and either me or my colleague in the shop and then ask all his questions and share his ideas and opinions on art, literature, music, film, etc. The conversations are always delightful and I do my best to be encouraging because it seems as though this is an entirely new world to him, so I do my best to encourage his bravery as he begins (and continues) to explore it. He is thoughtful and often quite insightful in his engagement with art. I enjoy our conversations.
Today I dropped by the shop and ran into him. He was just coming out and he mentioned that he’d bought a copy of my cento book. We talked about that for a bit and he had picked up some of the references to Greek epic in the poems, and he compared me to William Blake and Ezra Pound (which made me smile. I am a fan of both of these poets and that was quite a comparison) and then he said something that quite frankly made my week.
He had been assuring me that he was only scratching the surface, that he knew he wasn’t getting out of my centos what someone stepped in poetry would (and I was quick to say, that people respond to poetry based on their own experiences, that it speaks to each person differently). He finally paused and said, “I can only read a few lines and then I have to put it down and I carry those lines with me for days. It’s like…something’s burning and I think it’s my mind!”
I looked him right in the eye and said, “You understand my poetry perfectly.”
He told me that if he’d encountered my work in his twenties it would have destroyed his world, or set him on a totally different life path. He talked about books he’d read then: Hemingway, Joyce, Pound, etc. and how their work was like looking into a completely unique world, so incredibly different from his own and my work was like that too, that he’d read about people having these incredibly searing and intense experiences but it was like staring into a completely different universe from his own and then it struck me:
This is why purity is so important. This is why it’s so vitally crucial that we carefully choose what we read, what we watch, to what we expose ourselves (and it’s a choice we each have to make for ourselves, not one that should be dictated by any external authority). When we feed ourselves with words and art saturated with the Gods, it builds worlds in our minds. If we’re not careful, we can let in anything at all indiscriminately and that also builds worlds within our minds, polluted ones, rather than the worlds hospitable to our Gods and dead. These things matter and it’s an area that we alone control. What are we going to nourish in ourselves? What kind of landscape are we going to create within ourselves – one that nourishes the holy or one diametrically opposed to it? That is what religious purity is: creating worlds within ourselves hospitable to our Gods and spirits, and it’s important.
So, I get this question sometimes, like today, as my husband and I were leaving our local diner. A little kid waiting in line with its (I didn’t notice if it was a boy or girl, ironically) mother to use the toilet asked the mom about my gender just as I exited out the back door. I just laughed – I’m never offended by the question when it comes from a child. They’re working out their world and it’s not the first time that I’ve been asked by a child in the 4-8 age range where I fall on the gender spectrum. I almost went back in to have a conversation with the kid, but it is hot and I really wanted to go home. Maybe I should have gone back in because on the way home I started thinking about the incident.
Had the child never seen a woman with short hair? I once asked a friend if I really read that “masculine” and that friend said ‘you’re clipped, to the point, and assertive. In this culture, yes.” And we both agreed that was utterly pathetic because really, what is it teaching women but to be soft, pliant, indecisive, and stupid? I should mention that I purposely tend to reign in my body language when I’m out and about – if I don’t curb it, if I just allow myself to walk and move naturally, I find that women often become frightened. I move with strength and purpose (and find myself incredibly annoyed by those who don’t. figure out what you’re doing and where you’re going and do it or get the fuck out of the way). It really brings home the message of weakness and compliance that young girls are taught in this country. My friend went on to say, “you want to know what most people expect of women look at fox news.” I almost barfed. I am too fucking intelligent to behave that way. Sorry, folks, just can’t dumb myself down enough. How unfeminine of me, I know. *sarcasm*
Another friend of mine came over after breakfast – he is doing a bit of a repair job for me at my house—and when I told him what happened he made an offhand comment that he wondered if I’d start seeing more of this questioning as people get crazier and crazier over bathrooms and gender. I told him I already have. While no one has yet approached or harassed me, I’ve been given the definite stink eye by a couple of older gentlemen when I used the ladies room at a local art exhibit. I find myself more aware of those around me when I’m going to the toilet (and I have OAB – I go to the toilet a lot so I have quite a bit of time to contemplate the bathroom insanity in this country). It’s not lost on me that not only are those bathroom laws transphobic, but they also force feminization on women, a very particular 1950s brand presentation. It’s utter bullshit. (And let me tell you, the first person to accost me for using the ladies room is going to get the crudest, grossest, rudest response I can muster – and they’d better hope I’m not menstruating at the time—such bigotry deserves no less and I can be amazingly crude when the situation calls for it).
I have been accosted in the past because people have assumed I was gay. The most egregious occasion occurred in Europe. I was walking arm in arm with my mother. We both have short hair and apparently that’s all that’s needed for a certain type of small-minded bigot to make assumptions. We were nearly attacked. I stood my ground against the three attackers while my mother went to get the police and fortunately they backed down but it was very close and I never again went out with her without keeping one eye peeled for potential violence. That changed the way that I look at all of this.
These bathroom laws are about forcing a specific gender compliance, nothing more. It’s not only trans folk who are being harassed, but there have also been cases of women with short hair (longer than mine, I might add), and cancer patients having been harassed too. This is about forcing men and women to dress and comport themselves in a certain way, a way that the fundamentalist Christian right finds appropriate. Well, fuck them. THEY are the problem, not trans people who need to pee.
We have radical Islamic terrorists shooting up gay clubs, imams preaching that to kill LGBTQ people is the “compassionate choice” (I wish I could find the podcast where I learned about this…it happened at a mosque 45 mins outside of Orlando), we have Republicans making laws ostensibly to protect the children…unless those children are gay or trans or bi (or poor, or African-American, or, or, or…). We’re no longer the ‘land of the free and home of the brave,” instead we’re the land of ignorant, small-minded, frightened bigots and we should be better than that. Maybe we should grow up as a country and stop using “the children” as an excuse for our bigotry. In the meantime, this heterosexual cis-gendered woman stands gladly with the LGBTQ community.
Two weeks ago as I was driving home, I saw something seemingly innocuous but in reality very disturbing that has stuck with me since. I wasn’t going to write about it but I can’t get it out of my mind and I think it highlights something important in what we’re teaching our kids. Let me first describe what I saw and then I’ll tell you why it so disturbs and even angers me.
I live about a quarter mile from an elementary school. Driving home as parents were picking up their children, I saw two kids, at most maybe five years old, one boy and one girl playing on what passes for monkey bars these days. An anxious father was there holding his arms out under the girl in case she should fall. That’s all and I can’t stop thinking about it.
He’s teaching his daughter to limit her world, to be afraid. He’s teaching her that she can’t get hurt and get up again and conquer. He’s teaching her to not be bold or curious or adventurous, not to push herself to her limits and beyond. He’s teaching her that she needs a man to rely upon in scary situations, that she can’t problem solve, and he’s teaching that boy that the girl is so much more important, that he is expendable in relation to his sister (and if you don’t think that message has a part to play in man on woman violence, think again).
Years ago I read a psych article that posited that by age five a child has learned whether the world is a good place, or whether it is a scary and dangerous place and that whatever message they have internalized is almost impossible to fully unlearn later. The message the father was sending his children is clear and I understand a parent wanting to protect a child from hurt but as hard as it is sometimes those children need to be allowed to fall.
It is not a gift to a child to teach them that their world needs to be limited by fear, that they cannot cope, that stumbling or hurt or injury is the end of the world, a catastrophe from which they cannot possibly hope to have the internal resources to overcome. We do them no favors by instilling not just caution (which would be sensible) but anxiety, fear, and dependence.
Fear should not be what defines a girl or a woman. Fear should not be what defines any human being.
The past two months, I’ve read at least half a dozen articles of parents who had child protective services called because they let their children play unsupervised in their own back yards, let them walk home alone from a local park close to their home, and so on and so forth. Barely a week goes by where I don’t read something similar, parents harassed because they are raising independent children.
The result of this helicopter parenting? We have children who need trigger warnings whenever they encounter an idea with which they disagree. We’re harming our children by stifling and over-protecting them. We’re raising children who lack emotional resiliency (sooner or later we all fail, we all get hurt, we are all confronted by ideas that offend us, we all have to learn to pick up the pieces and get on with things without being utterly crushed when life doesn’t go our way). We’re raising children who can’t handle differing opinions and ideas sanely. We’re raising children who lack the baseline ability to thrive in a diverse and often divisive world. We’re raising children who will be crushed by life. That’s what I fear the most: that in wanting to protect our kids from everything that might ever hurt them (I get that. I don’t have kids but I have a god daughter whom I love dearly, and a pacel of nieces and nephews and I would give my right arm to spare them pain, but when I pray for them, I pray that they be given only the amount of suffering needed to make them capable and compassionate human beings) we are in reality crippling them.
Thinking of my mom tonight. I found my common book, a collection of quotes and musings and helpful things that she inspired me to keep. I had thought the book lost. She was often my lifeline through the difficulties of devotion and when I was most discouraged, and tired, and frustrated, when the Gods seemed so very far away, her wisdom often helped me to find my way back to Them, or at least to open up again to the sense of Their Presence. It is so very easy, after all, for the poison of this world to close us off.
I was contemplating devotion tonight. It’s been a long, hard haul since her death in 2010. Even a shaman can get angry at the Gods –irrationally so, i will admit–for the death of a parent. I redid my altar tonight, my working space and it is stark, as I often feel inside when thinking of how much I miss her. My dead have been very present today. They sustain me in so many ways.
I was thinking of all the tools and techniques that I used for so many years to strengthen and nourish my devotional work, and my connection to Odin. It’s always funny for me, when a cherished technique no longer works. I’ve moved on from those first faltering steps but that does not mean I don’t falter. Sometimes, He prompts me to find new ways of connecting because it is never, ever good to grow complacent in one’s relationship with the Gods. I know that much: it is not a thing to ever take for granted. We must work to make it anew, again and again and again, to keep it vibrant and ever-changing. We are ever spinning that thread of connection. It’s never a set thing, a done deal. Thinking of all the currents that have carried me through and forward in my work, there has always been one necessary constant: getting myself out of the way.
As I was thinking of this tonight, i happened to snatch up my common book and I opened to a page with a quote, something my mother said so many years ago. I want to share it with you, my readers, tonight:
“You have to be as still and empty of yourself as a reed-flute — only then will the Gods play you.” -Fuensanta Plaza
She is right of course. She is so very right and the grief and anger that has taken root in my heart for so long, the pain of missing her, has filled up too many spaces that were once empty for Them. Time to shatter myself again, break myself open, give myself up as fruit to the winepress to begin anew in walking with Odin. Even when I hate this process so, it is much like coming home to an old friend. I want to share too, for all of you who struggle with your communities, with your families, with everything that devotion to the Gods can demand, another quote from my journal, something my mother Fuensanta gave me, a quote this time by Ida Goerres. I don’t know where she found it, but it has helped me in the past to consider and considering has filled me with a ferocity to proceed and endure. The only context I was given for this quote is that it is about those called and claimed by the Gods:
“Those who receive such a call, and answer it, are not inhuman. They are marked souls who must call forth in us fear an awe, reverence, and perhaps painful sympathy. And if they offend us also what does it matter? Everything that exceeds average humanity offends those who cannot understand it.” -I. Goerres
So that is all I have tonight. Keep to your practices. When it is difficult know that there are those of us who have stumbled over the same broken and bloody rocks. You are not alone in your barren places. Those places echo with the tears and cries of all who have passed before you. Let us sustain each other in between the moments of blinding joy that true devotion brings.
WildHunt has an interesting article about discrimination in the workplace here. It’s worth a read. I’ve always chosen to be out as a polytheist. I don’t ever want to be in the position where I can be blackmailed about it, nor do I see it as something to hide. There’s also a didactic function inherent in being out, even if only very quietly so. Still, I’ve been discriminated against on the basis of my religion at work many times: I’ve had bibles left piled up all over my office, I’ve had my office vandalized. Both times I knew it was a fundy christian working at the same department. They were not disciplined by management at all and I was told to forget about it. I’ve been isolated and alienated from social functions at work. I’ve had verbal harassment. I’m pretty sure it cost me a job. I know it impacted my salary and let’s just say I never made ‘friends’ at work.
When I worked in ballet, it was a non-issue. It only became a problem when I moved into retail (Barnes and Noble, where the two acts of office vandalism and what I would now term a massively hostile work environment occurred, was the worst including having a manager call me aside and wanting, quite aggressively, to know how many Pagans were in the department. I refused to answer as there were four or five of us) and then corporate. Ironically now in academia I’ve had no problems at all (so far). The worst I can say is certain journals refuse to publish my religious studies articles on the grounds I couldn’t possibly be unbiased being polytheist –regardless of how well researched these articles are, or sometimes on the grounds that I’m more a theologian than an anthropologist. I’ve never had a problem in my fairly conservative department and I don’t hide my identity as a polytheist at all. hell, all anyone would have to do is a simple Google search. It may become an issue when I attain my PhD and have to find a job, especially if I intend to teach high school, which is a relevant option for Classicists. That remains to be seen.
For those outside the US reading this, and possibly wondering why religion would even come up in the workplace, allow me to clarify. American workplaces are infested with the same obsession with religion, specifically Christianity, that you see in the media and our political arena. While I find talking about one’s personal life at all at work obnoxious, many Americans find nothing wrong with assuming one to be Christian and/or asking about it in a workplace setting. We have laws against this when it’s coming from management, but not so much when it’s another co-worker. It’s like being married or having children: office mates will pry and if you don’t openly disclose sooner or later they’ll try actively to sniff it out. This is one of the things i loathed about corporate: what i term the office bell jar effect.
When I was working in Human Resources for a major American bank, we had a case where two brokers were fighting. One was a practitioner of Vodou and the other kept accusing this person of putting hexes on her, and complained to management about it, every time something went wrong in her life. HR wanted to laugh it off until I pointed out the immensely hostile workplace this was creating for the Voudoussaint, and the potential for a pending lawsuit. It got resolved pretty quickly but the fact that it even escalated to the point of coming to HR is significant. There’s little respect in this country given to non-Abrahamic religions. Last year, though the ruling was quickly overturned, a judge even ordered a Wiccan mother to put her child in Christian education. We have a very long way to go before we break the back of the Christian right in this country, and an even longer way to go before our religion becomes a non-inssue in the world of social commerce.
In my medieval studies class this week, amongst other writing, we had to read through “Memorial” by 13th century Italian female mystic Angela of Foligno. I don’t particularly care for her work, for a number of reasons, many of them centering around issues of translation (as well as a certain distaste for Franciscan spirituality in general) but I gained a valuable insight nonetheless. This was the first time that reading an account of someone’s spiritual practices actually made me throw up…and I’m ok with that. Bear with me.
About half way through her narrative, which her confessor bade her to share with him (1), she is discussing charity as an ascent into divine joy. On Maundy Thursday, she suggests to her companion that they go to the hospital to “find Christ there among the poor, the suffering, and the afflicted.” (2) Her narrative continues thusly:
And after we had distributed all that we had, we washed the feet of the women and the hands of the men, and especially those of one of the lepers which were festering and in an advanced stage of decomposition. Then we drank the very water with which we had washed him. And the drink was so sweet that, all the way home, we tasted of its sweetness and it was as if we had received Holy Communion. As a small scale of the leper’s sores was stuck in my throat, I tried to swallow it. My conscience would not let me spit it out, just as if I had received Holy Communion. I really did not want to spit it out but simply to detach it from my throat. (3)
I find this utterly repugnant and disgusting. I cannot articulate the level to which this sickens me. I am so profoundly glad that my own spirituality does not involve anything quite so revolting. To me. Revolting to me. Because I also realize, that for Angela of Foligno, this was a moment of profound connection to her God, something that gave her tremendous joy, something that was a deeply powerful expression of her devotion and faith. She saw Christ in those lepers and the skin was essentially, for her, the Eucharist and there’s a deep Eucharistic piety echoing through much of her work. Moreover, she doesn’t recount this in order to exhort others to do it, she is responding to her confessor’s difficulty with the idea that connecting with Christ through sharing his cup (the metaphor the narrative uses) could be sweet. He had apparently asked for examples and she provided him with one. He chose to record it and give it a place in the finished narrative.
As we were discussing this text in class tonight it struck me powerfully that I was responding to this woman’s spiritual practices (which are, in the end, between her and her god) with the same type of narrow-minded hostility and disgust with which some people respond to any mention of ordeal work.
I’ve never understood the deeply visceral and negative response some people have toward the idea of ordeal when a) they’ve never seen or participated in one, b) they’re not being asked to participate, nor are they being told that it’s something that everyone must do and c) it’s only one part of my and other ordeal worker’s spiritual practice, in some cases not even a particularly large part. I mean, if you aren’t called to it, don’t do it. It seems a pretty simple rubric (and it is, but our senses are not so simple or always accommodating). I can sympathize a bit better now with the cognitive struggle that some people must go through when faced with something so alien to their own approach to their Gods.
Here’s the thing though, my gut-clenching response to Angela and her lepers was my response. It had nothing at all to do with her, her expression of her devotion to Christ, the work that she did, the act she performed that so revolted me, or the integrity of her practice. My response had to do with me and my own personal aesthetics. I think it’s important when something affects us that instantaneously, that viscerally (and when we’re talking about consenting adults) that we step back and really do a little soul searching as to why. I think all too often we as a species tend to foist our own mental and emotional baggage onto others, blaming them for our own responses rather than owning up and owning our shit.
Without that honest self examination, the impulse that led me to express revulsion over a woman’s spiritual practice (not feel it—i don’t think it’s wrong to feel a particular gut response — no pun intended here—but rather it’s unwise not to examine our responses and bitterly small-minded to project them onto others), the impulse that leads Heathen John or Jane to condemn ordeal workers out of hand as perverts is the same impulse that at its very worst, has led to things like a grown woman cyber-bullying a teen-age girl until the latter committed suicide. At the very worst, ti’s the self-same impulse that leads a bigot on the street to bash a young gay or trans person to death. At its very worst it grows not just into narrow-mindedness but into an egregious lack of humanity and compassion.
I think it’s important to take care what seeds we nourish in our characters. We become that which we feed.
1. He asked her to share with him her experiences and recorded them, eventually preparing two redactions of the text.
2. Angela of Foligno. Complete Works. trans. Paul Lachance. New York, NY: Paulist Press, p. 162.
3. ibid, p. 163
In addition to holding the Minerva and Apollo agon jointly with Lykeia (folks can send me their submissions now — I just won’t post them until March 1), I also have a couple of personal project starting in March. I want to share them here, partly because this is my blog and where I talk about such things and partly because I’d be very interested in hearing from others who have done a similar project as I”m thinking about with the Norse Healing Goddesses.
We have a number of Healing Deities in Heathenry. The most well-known is Eir, named by Snorri as Divine physician. Looking through the lore, there is also Mengloth, and a number of much lesser known Deities that I tend to refer to as the healing retinue. I have very little devotional relationship with any of Them. That’s something that over the next year or so, I would like to change.
So, to do that, I intend to take one Deity a month, starting with Eir and research Her, make offerings, develop a prayer and devotional practice to Her and work hard to start incorporating the veneration of an entire group of little reverenced Deities into my regular cultus. I’m open to wherever this might lead. I know that this has been done with Frigga and Her retinue, but I”m very curious if anyone has done this with the healing retinue.
At any rate, I’ll probably be talking about this on and off and as I work through this process. I’ll share some of the relevant pieces here as i go.
I am still fundraising for my prayer card project (thank you to everyone, a huge thank you, who stepped up to donate money, art, and to sponsor cards, as well as to those of you who purchased some of the Sigyn devotional cards. it’s been a huge help!).
i still have quite a few 5×7 of the Sigyn cards left for purchase. once they’re gone, they’re gone. I will not be printing this size again. All the money goes toward more prayer cards. This month, I’m putting another card up for sale, also 5×7. I have a small stash of devotional cards for Eir. They are also $10/each and perfect for framing or for an altar. All proceeds will go toward the creation of more prayer cards (paying the artists, paying printing costs). Please contact me at krasskova at gmail.com if you are interested in purchasing one of these (or any of the other cards).
This is a 5×7 card of Eir by Grace Palmer. Size: 5×7, price: $10.
I still welcome sponsorship of cards. I will do a separate post shortly explaining which cards are up next and which still need sponsors.
I was talking to one of my professors recently and we were lamenting the sad state of education in this country. We see it specifically with our Latin classes, since so many of the skills that once would have been basic to any young scholar’s education from day one are now sorely missing. One of those, perhaps the most crucial, is the art of memory. (I’m going somewhere with this, I promise!). Students don’t memorize anymore. It’s become a dirty word. I once got into a rather heated argument with a high school teacher when I quoted a Latin aphorism, one that turns up in quite a few cultures (I first learned it in Russian): “repetition is the mother of learning.” Oh no, she opined, that is awful. It stifles creativity. It doesn’t teach critical thinking wah wah wah. I, having come from a ballet background, where you can be as creative as you want once you have disciplined yourself to high technique by daily, ongoing repetition, laughed in her face. It explains so much about our educational culture. There’s so little understanding that careful, thoughtful, thorough repetition is one of the keys to both learning and excellence. By the time students get to me, while they are ready and willing, most have never had to exercise their faculties of memory and they struggle, unable to master the paradigms and morphology of Latin grammar without a great deal of pain. It’s not that they don’t want to commit to memory, it’s that they don’t know how. Lately, I’ve been pondering the effect these attitudes may have on our devotional lives.
Rather than excluding critical thinking and creativity, the ability to hold knowledge in the depths of one’s memory, is a pre-requisite for excellence in both. Memory, after all, is the Mother of the Muses, the progenitor of artistry, creativity, culture, and knowledge. Memory is the most blessed and valuable of treasures. In the Grimnismal, there’s a passage wherein Odin comments that Huginn (thought) and Muninn (memory) fly across the earth each day and while He fears lest Huginn not return, He fears most of all the loss of memory. It is crucial to our being, to who we are, to the very substance of our identities. Memory is the container of everything we are, the seed-bed of everything we have the potentiality to become. At the same time, like anything of value, it has to be nurtured and nourished, developed and honed. It’s an ineffable muscle of mind and spirit, by some of us, considered an essential piece of the soul.
I’m thinking of this now, less due to that conversation with one of my professors and more so because in one of my classes, I’ve been reading about the connection of memory to the soul. We’ve been reading, among other things, the Cistercian fathers, a lot of medieval commentary, and painfully parsing out Aquinas’ commentary on Aristotle’s treatise on the nature of the soul. Not being a philosopher, I’ve had some masterful help in understanding the background as well as the philosophical concepts from a good and brilliant friend (thank you, E.!!). I’ll spare you the ins and outs of that process, but share some of the insights that I got via the most recent readings.
To the medieval mind, if i understand their construct correctly, the physical senses had the capacity to impact the spiritual senses, and hence ultimately the soul. Sight was particularly privileged, though all the senses functioned in more or less a similar fashion with regard to memory and that’s the part that I want to talk about here. Basically when you engage with something via the senses, a simulacrum, or “phantasm” to use the medieval terminology of that thing is created in the memory. That image may be stored in the memory and later recalled to mind. Because it is stored there however, accessible to both the physical and spiritual senses, those things we see and hear and touch (and to a lesser degree taste and smell) have the potential to leak into the soul’s memory, corrupting it. (Now mind you, I’m simplifying a great deal here, of what was a very, very complicated and complex theology of the senses). Memory was key to this whole process.
It occurred to me reading all of the articles and treatises that we’d been assigned that the logical spiritual corollary to all of that, was that one must guard against contagion and corruption through the senses. Of course a devaluation of the physical senses isn’t part of most polytheisms (nor am I suggesting that it should be), however the idea of miasma is. Miasma is a form of spiritual contamination. It is not ‘sin’, and often has no moral shading (attending a wedding puts one in a state of miasma, for instance). Of course one can enter into miasma by means of a crime (murder for instance), but there are lots and lots of gradations and levels. Sometimes even good and necessary work will put one in a state of miasma (tending the dead creates miasma, that must then we cleansed away). In many instances, miasma is the result of encountering something unclean — just as when you step in mud, your pants and shoes get dirty. It’s a natural side effect. In most cases, it’s easily cleansed away.
The ideas that I’m playing with here edge into the territory of miasma, but I honestly don’t know if I’d classify them as miasma…let me unpack this. If we can be contaminated spiritually by what we see and hear, by what we experience, then the logical curative is to be vigilant with regard to our senses. I cringe as i”m writing this because it immediately conjures to mind Christian disgust with the senses, and avoidance of sensual experience and that’s not what I mean at all. I do think however, that there is some merit in vigilance. How much are we shaped by our experiences? How much might our center be shifted by what we watch, or what we hear, or the settings to which we expose ourselves? How much reciprocity exists in the area of experience?
I know as a shaman I eat poison from my clients all the time. I wade in it every time I go out into the world and engage. I eat it or unmake it. I’ve seen the effects of that physically and spiritually and it’s part of my *job*. How might someone be affected by the spiritual poison in our world — and make no mistake, it’s enormous—when it’s not their job, when they just want to love and honor their Gods and live a good life? How might it affect those who are unaware of the danger? So I think about that and then I think about something my adopted mom told me once.
She was what in German is called a “Putzteufel”… a cleaning devil. She once told me that she never bothered to esoterically and magically shield her home. One, she wasn’t a magician and two, she kept it so clean that nothing malignant could find purchase there. She kept it so clean that nothing harmful could get in. Think about that for a minute. I am a vitki and I do shield my home and I can vouch for the fact that hers was the cleanest energetic (and physical!) space that I have ever in four plus decades seen. This was her ‘medicine,’ her way of engaging with the space in which she lived and moved.
Immediately I thought about how that might be applied to devotional life. Is it possible to fill the mind and heart so with praises and prayers and devotion to our Gods, fill to overflowing so that every moment of every day as we move throughout our worlds there is no room for corruption or contamination to exist? Is it possible to have a devotional life so integrated into every moment of one’s waking existence that those things that might impinge upon it, damage it, turn it away from true center simply have no means of gaining purchase? What would it mean for a person spiritually to do this? What would this look like?
I have read of using the names of one’s Gods as mantras to fill the mind during times of trouble. I know that it is possible to be engaging in the world quite effectively and still be almost always praying in the recesses of one’s mind, or to still have one’s mind and heart centered on devotion to the Gods. How can we make it more? How can we go deeper?
In ancestor work, i have learned to cherish my memories of my beloved dead— and by extension my memories of all I hold loved and precious—and to guard them carefully, even from those who think they mean well but who would pry and try to take these memories and the blessings of that experience for themselves. I still share these memories, but I have learned to be selective with whom I share these things. Perhaps this is part of discernment?
The other thing I ask myself all the time is whether or not I maintain just the basic practices of piety toward my Gods or whether I gladly and willingly do more than is otherwise “required,” or requested. Do I do more than I must? If not, why not? (Because let’s be honest, for me sometimes the answer is yes, and sometimes no and sometimes I do more but not with any grace).
What does it mean to want to grow in devotion and how can one do that well?
Back to the question of vigilance of the senses, I certainly don’t advocate limiting the mind in any way. I have to admit though that I am careful of what I expose myself to, especially in terms of media. I try to make good, reasoned choices. I’ve walked out of movies because I felt that personally by staying, i was subjecting myself to miasma. There was something grossly impious about what I was seeing (the case I am thinking of involved the remake of ‘Clash of the Titans” wherein the humans are encouraged to show disrespect for the Gods). I’ve read and watched things where I felt that I was unclean afterwards and had to actually go through a cleansing process. I wonder sometimes at the effect that all has on my devotional life.
For me, my one hard line is simply not permitting people in my life who do not respect my religion. If someone is going to constantly try to sow seeds of dissension and doubt, or worse, express contempt toward my Gods, my ancestral practices, my religious choices then they are simply not welcome to be part of my life in any way (and that includes family). Early on, as I began to prioritize my devotional work, I made this decision and it has served me well. I surround myself only with people who make me better as a human being, and who nourish me spiritually. But is that enough? We live in a world that calls itself modern and that is diametrically opposed in so many ways not only to the restoration of our traditions, but to any deeply rooted devotional experience. We cannot remove ourselves physically from the world — nor, I think, should we. So given that every day we wade out into the fray, how can we carry our devotional consciousness with us? Is it enough to carry the names of our Gods in our hearts and minds, letting it resound throughout our being as we ride the subway, or walk to work, or get our coffee at Starbucks, or…whatever? Is it enough to consciously offer a silent prayer with each step we take? Is it enough to know that our hearts are full of the awareness of the Gods? What would be enough?