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Playing Possum

For the last two months we’ve had a possum visiting us in the evenings. I had left a pizza box outside on our freezer – it was just too icy and cold to go to the trash cans and I planned to do so in the morning—and there was a bit of pizza left. I opened the door later that night to check the temperature and saw a possum noshing on the remains of the meat-lovers special. Lol. It took me a minute for my brain to process. My first thought was “how did piety possum get on the freezer,” since it looked exactly like a stuffed toy possum that we displayed at the PLC conference years ago, mostly to mock those who mock piety. Then, I realized it was a real-life possum! I gave it some cat food and have been doing this nightly, though the last few days it hasn’t been around. 

Possums are awesome creatures. They eat ticks, thousands of ticks per year and this is important where I live, since the Hudson Valley is practically ground zero for Lyme disease. They’re not really very aggressive (though I wouldn’t just go petting any random possum). They’ll play possum and emit a really gross smell to ward off predators and they don’t get rabies. They are good for your garden and will eat bugs and such that damage your plants. They also are immune to most snake bites. Also, the little guys are seriously smart. 

On a spirit work level, the power of the possum is that of transmuting poison, pollution, and contamination. This is no small gift and I am grateful for the presence of Possum right now in our lives. 

Piety Posse Rides Again LOL

I rather like the term that our detractors so gleefully use for those of us who value piety, so I’ve commissioned buttons that I’ll be selling on my etsy site (I’ll post here when they’re available at etsy). For those of you who are interested, you can pre order here by emailing me at The buttons are 1.75 inches, one/$3 or two/$5.  Wear them with pride, folks. Wear them with pride. Piety is not ever a bad thing. 



Plucking Forth a Thread — Piety Possum Rides Again ;)

The recent conversation about sacrifice on my blog has provoked quite a bit of discussion in my household. For many of us rooted in our traditions, this is a non-issue so i’m always surprised at how some people respond when it comes up. Those responses often bring to light areas of disconnect that I may not have considered and in this work that we do it is so very important to consider everything. That certainly happened here, and then several other tangential conversations happened that dovetailed nicely as well leading me to this post.

One of the things that I had said to my partner, as I read through the various comments on my blog was this, “why is it so difficult for some people to grasp?” In fact, I often ask that about polytheism in general, usually with a bit more profanity involved. He pointed me back to an article that I’d written in April about casual irreverence and the way that we are, by pop culture particularly, conditioned to treat the sacred, the religious, the supernatural with an ingrained, often unconscious attitude of dismissive disrespect and a more recent one where I touched on the same topic and its effect on ritual. Since I wrote those articles, I’ve been paying attention as I watch television and it’s really rather alarming how much casual disregard there really is. I’d never fully considered its impact before this, but always, always the human is prioritized and the sacred reduced to the ridiculous. Maybe this wouldn’t be a problem if more people were fully aware of both it happening and the potential effects when this is *all* we are exposed to in our culture. Most people, however, do not seem to give it a second’s thought, nor see the long term problems this has the potential to create when unbalanced, unmet, unchallenged by communities rooted in respect and piety, reverence and veneration for the Gods; and let me tell you, those things are in precious short supply. How could they not be? We have precious few models in our world of reverence and piety that does not in its own turn focus that on the human experience. Allow me to parse this out a bit.

The biggest problem, aside from the unconscious irreverence, lies in how we position our Holy Powers in relation to humanity. As communities, I think we’re much more comfortable with the *idea* of the Gods, the abstraction of Them, than a reality that would, of necessity, alter the way that we engage and behave when in sacred space. It’s one thing to say that we “worship the Old Gods” and quite another to actively engage with those Gods directly. One is a nice idea that allows for pleasant rituals, and the other something that demands a change in our priorities and an acknowledgement of a cosmic hierarchy to which many of us are markedly antagonistic. Make that shift and suddenly one’s religion is not about me, me, me, me but Them, Them, Them, Them and that has consequences in every aspect not just of our devotion, but — if we take it seriously — our lives.

Let me give an example from something I just read this morning. I came across a comment about sacrifice that firstly dismissed it as a very modern approach. Ok, the historian in me can’t let that one slide. It’s not modern at all. Sacrifice is one of the most ancient of religious rituals. To engage in sacrifice correctly is to restore threads of piety and devotion, of tradition and praxis first laid in place thousands of years ago. There’s nothing modern about it — if there were, fewer people would have so many problems with it. (I’ve actually had people tell me factory farming is more humane. One has to wonder what planet some of these folks live on). That’s actually not what piqued my interest though. In this same thread, someone said that they didn’t like the idea of fully immolating an animal, that it was wasteful. I’ve seen the same thing said when a sacrificial animal is not shared out in feast with the community. I’ve seen exactly the same thing argued with the idea of giving any kind of food or drink offering, including water. i’ve likewise seen the same arguments made against giving anything to one’s ancestors.

Now the first time I encountered this, I dismissed it vociferously as impiety. It just seemed so incredibly assed-up. It took me awhile before I actually sat with this idea and attempted to ferret out what was behind such attitudes. I think comments like these, attitudes like these really give remarkable insight into the chasm between our ancestors’ world and our own, at least insofar as the sphere of piety is concerned. When we make an offering to the Holy Powers or to our ancestors, we are establishing and nourishing a very sacred compact. We are giving to Beings Who exist. Therefore, the corollary to that is that we’re giving to Beings Who exist and Who can enjoy the fruits of devotion that are being offered. If we truly believe that the Gods and ancestors exist and that they can interact with us, impact us, engage with our world and with us, then how is an offering “wasted?” To say that making offerings, including sacrifices, is wasting food and drink, is by extension to say that the Gods and ancestors are not actually capable of engaging with us and our world. It is to limit the boundaries of our devotional awareness solely to what we can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. It is, furthermore, implying oh so insidiously that only what is taken up by human beings has value. That, regardless of what one might think of devotion and sacrifice, is in and of itself, a very slippery slope to crawl down.

I think two things are behind this attitude too. First, there’s the idea that these tremendous, awe-inspiring, primal Powers are real, sentient, and capable of impacting us quite directly. That right there is a difficult cognitive leap for many people. It’s so much easier to imagine the Gods as archetypes, thought-forms, or projections of our unconscious, or as concrete natural forces than as well, Gods. Then, there is the hierarchy this presupposes: that because of what They are, the Holy Powers, the Immortal Ones as a Roman polytheist might say, are far, far above us in the natural hierarchy of things. That, in a world that barely acknowledges the long term impact of human foolishness, let alone that something might be more important or more powerful than we, is another difficult pill to swallow. There’s quite often a knee jerk reaction to seeing this hierarchy, or hearing it proposed for the first time that causes people to act as though they are being reduced to nothingness, when in fact they are simply being shown that there is something, Something bigger and older and greater than they. We are like children throwing tantrums. Is it any wonder then, with these anxieties, that we’ve created a pop culture — entertaining as it may be—that allows humanity to top the Gods?

I often write about the impact of Christian culture on our psyches and I think there may be a piece of that to be considered here as well. What is the primary ideology of Christianity, the aspect of their theology that trumps all others and that has influenced centuries of theological discourse and debate, literature, art, and folk practices? In Christianity, their God chose to incarnate as man, as a human being. Ultimately what this does is close the gap between God and man. It puts man on an equal footing with God. I don’t necessarily think that this was the conscious purpose of such a theology, and I certainly think that generations of Christian theologians would be horrified at the thought, but essentially, psychologically, this is precisely where one can take the incarnation. To minds like ours patterned to impiety and hubris, it reduces both the transcendent and the immanent to mere humanity. It desacralizes the world.

In another article, I wrote not too long ago about the growing emphasis on social justice in many branches of the polytheist community, as opposed to interior practices and devotional work. While I think social justice is indeed necessary and good, twinning it to religion and at times in place of engaged devotional work one on one with one’s Gods, makes a certain type of sense given the climate of our culture. Given the deeply ingrained discomfort with devotion and all it says about the Powers, it’s much more comfortable to simply replace it with social justice work. This has the benefit of being absolutely necessary in our world and if one can position it as the sum total of devotional work, then one doesn’t really have to acknowledge the Gods and Their hierarchy directly. It again pushes the focus of religion onto the community and not the Gods. It takes something that frankly, we should be engaging in anyway as concerned human beings, and uses it to usurp the more uncomfortable facets of a tradition. Should one engage in social justice work: Yes, absolutely and I suppose one can do social activist work as a devotional thing, but if you take the Gods out of the equation, would you still be doing that work? If the answer is ‘yes’, then really, how much of a devotional act is it?

In the sphere of piety, I think that we as a culture have a very, very difficult time acknowledging that there is anything greater than we ourselves. We gauge and judge and filter everything through the lens of an overly-prioritized humanity and when the Gods don’t fit, when devotion demands we rise above that, when we are challenged to think outside the limitations of our own five senses, we all too often balk, fail, and blame the Gods for our failings. We are so small in the way that we see the world. The thing is, we don’t even prioritize humanity well. One look at our world tells you that. Some things to think about on a Friday afternoon. I’m not expecting agreement necessarily, but it’s about time we all began challenging ourselves to look more deeply at the way we approach our Gods, the problems we encounter, and just possibly a few reasons why.