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Piety and Purity

῾αγνον χρη ναοιο θυωδεος εντος ιοντα
᾽εμμεναι, ἁγνεια δ᾽εστι φρονειν ὀσια.

“He who goes inside the sweet-smelling temple must be pure.
Purity is to think religiously correct thoughts.”

I think this quote from the temple of Asclepius at Epidaurus really hits at something essential about spiritual purity. It begins in the mind, in how we each choose to cultivate and develop our inner landscape. At its core, purity – being free of miasma and in a state of spiritual integrity—begins with cultivation of the mind: thinking correct thoughts, desiring correct things, having the correct priorities. Those things are all within our capacity to acquire. We control whether or not we are successful here. No one else can do this for us.

What is correct? That is for the devotee and his or her Gods to figure out with the scaffolding of one’s tradition and perhaps one’s elders and diviners as helpful guides. The important thing is to know that it is fully within our capacity to develop habits of “religiously correct thoughts.” This is something each person can do. Like devotion, it’s a matter of choosing to take responsibility for what goes on in our heads and hearts and choosing to work at that daily.

This is why it’s important to consider carefully what we allow to take up residency in our minds. What we fill our thoughts with, what we allow free reign within ourselves will shape us in relation to holy things.

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Seven-Day Prayer Cycle to Pietas

Day 1: for Pietas, Who Brings Blessings

In the morning, before the sun rises,
while the moon still illuminates the sky,
gently inspiring with His beauty,
You rise to tend Your day.
Before the frenetic rush and riot
of family, work, and all Your daily tasks
vie for Your attention,
You seek out the comfort of the moon,
moments of serenity in which to order Your tasks;
and in that ordering, in the sanctuary of heart and mind,
Your finger each sacred obligation, each connection,
each covenanted commitment like the precious jewels they are,
and You remember, calling to mind their value, their importance,
and all the reasons You hold them true.
May we too do the same, oh Goddess,
may we restore and renew in the fastness of our beings,
all the sacred covenants to which we are bound.
May we remind ourselves again and again,
why we do this, and the love we bear
for our Gods and dead.
Hail to You, Pietas, may Your name
ever be spoken in reverence.

 

Day 2 – for Piety, Who is Mighty

She is a Goddess,
and Her name means grace,
righteous balance, and devotion.
She knows all the ways
In which to right our world.
She knows and proffers them to us
With holy hands.
She is harmony,
The resounding melody
Of all the spheres
Dancing in perfect rhythm.
She is ratio and perfection.
She is the royal road
Open to us all.
She has no need of armor or spear,
Sword or terrifying mace,
Though Her blessings fall
On every right-minded man
And woman too
Going forth to do their duty.
She has only to reveal Herself,
To enter a place, a heart, a home
And it is transformed
Into a victorious field
Where enemies of the Gods
May no longer dwell.
Hail to You, Pietas,
Sweet Perfection,
A Beauty found only in You,
By which we are raised up.

 

Day 3- for Pietas, Who Nurtures Tradition

Oh Goddess, Keeper of the most ancient and necessary of virtues,
Cultivator of the Holy, Guardian of sacred traditions,
Kindle within us the flame of fervent devotion.
Protect us from acedia, from pollution, from lack of care.
Inspire within us a desire, always, to do what is right and proper:
For our Gods, our ancestors, the land from which we draw sustenance,
And our traditions, the delicate and holy trust which have been given into our care.
Show us, Mighty Mother, how to tend these duties fully and well.
Let nothing deter us. Let nothing interfere, least of all our own fears
That our work will not be perfect.
Inspire in us a motivation as fierce and unstoppable
as the very turning of the seasons,
that we may cultivate within ourselves,
all the virtues necessary,
to live a life of devotion
pleasing to our Gods.
Teach us, Oh Goddess both gentle and firm,
To develop in ourselves the virtues of loyalty, fidelity,
Commitment and care, caritas toward the Gods
And each other.
Let us nourish what must be nourished.
With hearts and hands ever lifted in prayer.
Hail to You, Pietas, now and to our final breath.

 

Day 4 – for Pietas, Who teaches Devotion

Without piety, Oh Goddess, we are nothing.
Upon what other foundation ought our lives be wrought?
That gift of grace and understanding that You bear is precious;
and from the moment we were formed in our mothers’ wombs,
essential. Upon what else ought the work of our souls be focused?
It is a joyful, sustaining duty that You teach us,
to tend well our world of family and home,
city, town, and state, to render well the service
that rightfully ought to be given to these things.
But most of all, best and highest of all,
You teach us what it means
to be in right relationship with our Gods and ancestors,
with the land that nourishes us and all the spirits therein.
You help us to live in a way that nurtures these relationships,
that gives our own lives purpose and ensures that we contribute
to that which the Gods have built in ways that allow us
to rightfully pass it on into the hands
of those who come after us,
leaving all these things in better shape than we received it.
Hail to You, Pietas, may we always be mindful
of the sacred duty* for which we were born.

 

Day 5 – For Pietas, Whose Grace is Love

Piety is not a harsh, unyielding thing.
It is not heavy and vicious,
a burden to bear instead of a blessing.
Those who learn at Your feet,
who heed well the lessons You gently teach
learn the truth: that it is the sweetest joy
a mortal may taste in this world.
Piety is the honey-gold link of love
that ties us ever to the Gods and They to us.
It is the rich ambrosia that allows us to share
in the eternal feast of the Immortals.
It is wealth beyond measure,
that opens our lives to every abundance.
It all begins with Your lessons, Gracious Goddess,
and our own willingness to learn those things
that are Yours first and foremost to teach.
May we always be willing to do so.
may our hearts be filled with Your wisdom.
May our mouths feast on the sweetness of Your words.
May our souls rejoice in the beauty of this knowledge;
and may You bless us in this endeavor, every and always,
especially when we struggle the most.
Hail and honor to You, Holy and Sacred,
Hail, Pietas.

 

Day 6 – for Pietas, Who Keeps us Clean

It is Your grace that nourishes us
in times of deepest distress;
Your power that lifts us up
out of the muck and poison of modernity;
You, unyielding and unhesitating,
Who shows us a healthier, better way
in which to weave the tapestry of our lives.
It is You, Sweet and Gracious Goddess,
quietly formidable, ever-holy Keeper of our Traditions,
Who sweeps away the dreck, cleansing and purifying,
who lights before the eyes of our souls,
a torch that will lead us to the brightly hallowed
hearth of our Gods,
should we but cultivate the fortitude to follow it.
Help us to do just that, Pietas,
to cultivate within ourselves that precious fortitude.
Help us that we may be valiant in following You
and those things, intrinsic and integral
to the good of our souls, that You teach.
You, Oh Goddess, the sacred Presence
in which nothing wicked, nothing polluted, nothing evil
may find purchase, help us to but stay the course,
knowing that however dark and lonely the way may seem,
under Your tutelage we are never alone,
but stand resilient and whole with generations of forebears
who knew the rightness of honoring You,
supportively at our backs.
With your grace, we too may one day stand
with that august and hallowed company,
urging on in support, the next generation
of devout and pious polytheists
to but stay the course.
Hail to You, Pietas,
ever and always our guiding star.

 

Day 7 – to Pietas, Who Brings Joy

You, in Your quiet way nourish the Gods,
as Helios in His bright-streaming chariot
nourishes the earth with His journey.
You tend and turn the hearts of mortals,
to right contemplation of the Gods.
You inspire the hearts of philosophers,
to meditate upon the virtues.
You encourage artists in their work
of bringing beauty into being
lifting up aching souls to the heavens.
You whisper in the ear of the home-maker,
and call to mind the wisdom of the dead.
Your blessings fall on soldiers,
who protect their people,
on the teachers, who nurture
the next generation,
on bankers, secretaries, lawyers, farmers,
mechanics, on everyone,
on all those who work hard
to sustain themselves and their world.
Into each and every ear You whisper encouragement,
devotion is for everyone.
You hold out glimmers of promise,
that the Gods are here,
that it is right to honor Them,
that it is a joyful thing to make one’s life
a celebration of Their blessings.
You teach us that everything is sacred.
Everything is a secret doorway to the Holy,
and everything a means by which the Holy
can find its way back into our world
over and over again. You place into our hands
the key to that door bidding us to open it wide.
If we are brave, if we allow ourselves
to hear Your voice,
if we but run laughing in the direction
You encourage, then we too
in our own small way,
might blaze like Helios across the sky,
(hail Him, joyously!)
and light the hearth of our world,
with hallowing fire,
until any and all pollution
is burned away.
You are the ultimate Mystery,
the ever Glorious One,
and to You always and ever I bow.
Hail, Pietas.

 

Pietas

*the meaning of the Latin word ‘pietas’ that is also the name of this Goddess, is duty: to Gods, ancestors, land, city, family, state, etc. it was all bound up in the meaning of piety for ancient Romans, and from this came the Pax Deorum.

(prayer cycle by G. Krasskova; image by W. Mcmillan)

Day 3 – for Pietas

Oh Goddess, Keeper of the most ancient and necessary of virtues,
Cultivator of the Holy, Guardian of sacred traditions,
Kindle within us the flame of fervent devotion.
Protect us from acedia, from pollution, from lack of care.
Inspire within us a desire, always, to do what is right and proper:
For our Gods, our ancestors, the land from which we draw sustenance,
And our traditions, the delicate and holy trust which have been given into our care.
Show us, Mighty Mother, how to tend these duties fully and well.
Let nothing deter us. Let nothing interfere, least of all our own fears
That our work will not be perfect.
Inspire in us a motivation as fierce and unstoppable
as the very turning of the seasons,
that we may cultivate within ourselves,
all the virtues necessary,
to live a life of devotion
pleasing to our Gods.
Teach us, Oh Goddess both gentle and firm,
To develop in ourselves the virtues of loyalty, fidelity,
Commitment and care, caritas toward the Gods
And each other.
Let us nourish what must be nourished.
With hearts and hands ever lifted in prayer.
Hail to You, Pietas, now and to our final breath.

(by G. Krasskova)

Our Communities Make Me Tired

Today I was checking my Facebook and I came across this gem:

“Notice to my friends-I will not be taking part in or hosting or organizing any [Pagan denomination name’s] rituals or [name of Heathen denomination]’s rituals until I start getting the things I have coming from the Gods and Goddesses. I have grown weary of communing with them, giving them offerings etc to have nothing in return for my connection to them. In my world there is suppose (sic) to be reward or at least confirmation that what I do for them is being put on the balance sheet. So until the scales get balanced in my favor I am withdrawing from all ritual work to honor the Gods until they start to fucking recognize and reward what I have done for them over the years. I will honor my class obligations but beyond that I will be ignoring the Gods.” [I am omitting the name of the author as well as his denoms.]

I’m sure the Gods can hardly contain Their upset at this guy’s decision. SarcasmI sincerely hope this person gets the things he “has coming” from the Gods. Oh, I sincerely do. The level of obtuseness here irritates me but also makes me very sad. Someone hasn’t had very good spiritual direction, at the very least. Now I’m not posting this to shame the poster (If I were, I would have included his name) but because I think this attitude permeates, to varying and lesser degrees, large swaths of our community (especially Heathenry). I rarely see it as clearly articulated as the above, but it’s there coloring, all too often, our devotional lives. I probably should have more compassion but I’ll be honest, I don’t. We should be well beyond this by now and one of the biggest issues with Heathenry today is that we have zero structures in place to provide proper spiritual guidance, to provide good, devout models of how one should engage with the Gods, and most of all, we have zero infrastructures that challenge this outlook. We allow atheists to claim community privilege, we shit on the very idea of proper clergy and specialists, we reify the lore as though we were bible thumping Protestants, mock and spit at devotion, and at every turn we give our Gods nothing. While it’s marginally better than when I first became Heathen thirty years ago, there’s still a terribly long way to go and there shouldn’t be.

We all have our peevish moments before our Gods. Those momentary lapses are not a bad thing. We’re human and our Gods’ awareness and understanding must encompass that, given that They made us. The problems arise when this is a default spiritual setting. WHO THE FUCK ARE WE TO ASSUME THAT THE GODS OWE US ANYTHING?  This guy whines about all the things he’s done for the Gods. What? What have you done that possibly abrogates your responsibility as an adult for venerating Them? We do not honor the Gods and ancestors because we want things in return – not unless we’re shallow, selfish, underdeveloped, pathetic human beings. We honor them because it is the right thing to do, because it is our privilege to do so, because establishing and maintaining right relationship with the Powers transforms everything. It elevates us and brings us into balance with the cosmological order that the Gods Themselves established. The Gods OWE us? No, on the contrary: we owe Them EVERYTHING.

Attitudes like those expressed in the quote above are poison. They corrode the health of any spiritual relationship. Devotion shouldn’t happen only when it’s convenient to us. It shouldn’t be predicated on getting our way or getting rewarded in some way – it is not our place to dictate to the Gods. I can hardly believe that I’m having to write this. It is not our place to dictate anything to the Holy Powers. We can ask. We can beg. We can even have our occasional temper tantrums but in the end as adults we must realize that They do not operate according to our whims and whining. I can only imagine what this person’s life is like if this is the attitude he takes with those in it. Our Gods are patient and wait for us to come to Them properly. They wait and encourage us to order our minds and hearts in healthy ways and if we allow ourselves to recognize it, often provide us with everything we possibly might need in order to do so.

The Gods do not require our devotion. We, however, are the better for it. Attitudes like the above, even when one is going through the outward motions of ritual and respect automatically close the door to any blessings They might bestow. And really? Why should They bother? That They so often do is one of the most profound graces of our lives. The least we can do in return it learn to center ourselves rightly before Them. Let us know, now and always, our proper place before the Gods. We’re only hurting ourselves otherwise.

I suppose all examples are valuable, even the negative ones and here we most certainly have a perfect example of how NOT to engage with the Gods, how not to position ourselves vis-à-vis our devotional work, and the attitudes and behaviors not to encourage …if we give a shit that is about our Gods, our traditions, our ancestors, our communities, and our faith.

A Really Good Question from a Reader

Owlet asks: “How do you make right after participating in a ritual or group that is disrespectful?”

This is a really good question and I’m glad you asked it here. It’s something that I’ve had to learn through a lot of trial and error, especially when I was much more open to participating in rituals outside my House, and when I was working in the interfaith world. My answer is two- fold.

Firstly, what you describe (which I quote further below) is the real danger of community involvement and I am so very sorry to learn that this happened to you. It hurts my heart to know that your own devotion was impacted by this. It can be very, very hard to come back from such a thing but I will say this: as we learn better, we do better. You’ve had a valuable experience about what is NOT proper community. That will serve as an incredibly useful lens through which to evaluate every other group with which you consider becoming involved in the future. That can be a great blessing. Hopefully, also, others can learn from your story as well.

Now, you ask what one can do. Firstly, ideally, don’t participate in those groups. It is far, far better to remain solitary than to pollute yourself. I think that the desperation to communicate and share with like-minded individuals sometimes pushes us into these situations and it’s so important, early on, to commit to not compromising where piety and respect for the Gods, ancestors, and land are concerned.  In this, compromise is nota virtue. Evaluate their theology, their politics, their values, their lifestyles, the choices they make large and small. Separate your personal feelings from these things, because a person can be nice and friendly but in the end, poison ideology leads to poisoning of the tradition and our lives. Do the choices they’re making serve the Gods and the tradition or do they seek to elevate the people and ego-stroking, etc. etc. Is it all about the human condition?

It is absolutely lovely to find like-minded polytheists, and to build communities – and in truth, I don’t think our restoration can endure intergenerationally without lived community. The thing is, it’s important that those communities prioritize the Gods qua Gods and if they don’t, shun them like poison.  I would add that we’re never really alone. We have our Gods, we have our ancestors and we can learn from Them and hopefully when we’re ready, They will guide us to working, solid traditions that will augment our relationships with the Gods, not shit on them. 

So first and foremost, I would say, avoid these senseless or impious groups. That means making conscious devotional choices about what to prioritize, and about your religious life, and with whom you share that. It means doing some research, asking uncomfortable questions before participating. It means being willing to walk away from groups and people that do not nourish  one’s piety. That means weighing everything and most of all being absolutely unwilling to compromise on the key fundamentals of polytheistic practice. I think with the influence of pseudo-progressivism in our communities, we’ve been indoctrinated to think of ‘compromise’ as a virtue across the board. It’s not. If I’m in a ship and the hull is compromised, that’s not a good thing. That is in fact, life threatening. It’s the same with the type of pollution that we can all too often find in certain places.

Owlet’s post continued: “I spent many years as a solitary pagan and polytheist, because I lived in an area where the culture was unusually hostile to such things. When I moved to a large urban center and university town, I immediately got involved in pagan events and groups. I was desperate to be a part of a community. To one group , in particular, I donated hundreds (or more) volunteer hours, a great deal of money, handcrafted ritual items…everything I could give. As I learned over the years, the people running and organizing these events and rituals often did not believe in the gods as anything more than thoughtforms or maybe archetypes, or were at the core monotheists or Christians with a thin overlay of pagan dress. Their disrespect spread from their relationship with the gods, to their relationship with the land, to the ancestors, and to other people, and I played along and became complicit. Now that I’ve left and can stand back, I feel heartsick at the compromises I made to please these groups. The service I gave to these communities distracted from and damaged my relationships with the holy powers instead of strengthening them.”

Again, it hurts to read this and my heart goes out to you, but look at it as a learning experience. It’s often difficult, especially when we’re all hungry for community and companionship, to recognize when something or someone is problematic. We learn, often from harsh experience. I would encourage you to not carry guilt over this. Go before your Gods and ask Their forgiveness if you feel the need, and do a ritual cleansing and then commit to doing better. Sometimes, it’s really, really important to have these bad experiences so we have a baseline from which to clearly and accurately evaluate practices. The most important thing in what you’ve sadly experienced is that now you can look on these things clearly and make better, informed choices. There’s no need for shame about any of that. You contributed to a community that you thought shared your piety. That’s a good thing to do. It’s not your fault that the community was not what you thought. Please don’t carry the guilt from this.  Sometimes we appreciate devotion and piety and right relationship all the more when we’ve had an experience of its opposite and the effects of that.

What I would suggest is prayer – we cannot pray too much—and regular cleansings. Whenever I find that I’ve been exposed or have inadvertently exposed myself (and sometimes my spiritual Work requires this) to pollution, I will pray and cleanse myself, sometimes using divination to figure out what type of cleansing is needed. I always suggest going to the Gods, going to the ancestors, going to the land and reconnecting. Ask Them for help and cleansing, ask Them for guidance and don’t be afraid to set boundaries with would-be communities.

Ritual Modesty: A Response

A professor at my university posted this piece on twitter (he’s orthodox and this is a thought-provoking piece of relevance to modern orthodoxy) and it raised for me a number of thoughts concerning our own traditions too. First, go read the original article because much of this post was prompted by it or is in response to it and it’s nice to be on the same page for any discussion.

I work in a tradition that encourages head covering (of both men and women) during religious rites. I want to emphasize that it is encouraged, not required. Working in a blended tradition as I do, I find that in cultus deorumpractices, we almost always cover, and within Heathenry, generally only for ancestor stuff but this may vary depending on the way in which one is devoted to one’s Gods. I’ve known Heathen women who covered once they married, and Heathen men who do so out of respect for particular Gods but within Heathenry it’s not a common thing. In cultus deorumit was tradition for both men and women to cover their heads during offerings and religious rites, and that is one that at least within my branch of the tradition, we maintain. There are also times in which one might cover for purification purposes in general.

This piece piqued my interest, however, because over the past ten years I’ve come across a growing number of polytheists across traditions who are choosing to cover their heads, not just during religious rituals but out of modesty and piety, all the time (and kudos to any woman who can do this with a migraine. I’ve always wondered what those who veil or cover do when they get a migraine because I sure as hell can’t stand anything on my head then!). I think we should be encouraging modesty in our people (which does not mean that one need to cover one’s head to be modest) as a general rule, whatever that might mean.

One of the things that I very much appreciated in the article, which I otherwise found rather vexing, is the comment that modesty wasn’t about how long one’s skirts are or whether or not one covers one’s head, it’s a “line in the heart.” Some time ago, I read a Christian article on modesty by a mother of a young child. She said that her child had put on a new dress and was standing in front of the mirror commenting that she could not wait until her friends saw her and how nice she looked and the mother despaired. She despaired because she realized that no matter how modest the dress might be, the child wasn’t: her heart wasn’t modest. She wanted to show off for others and receive attention that way. It was one of the more nuanced discussions of modesty that followed, one that wasn’t about clothing, that I’ve read in a long time).  Our ancestors had a deep sense of morality and propriety. Unlike so much of modern Paganism, it wasn’t an ‘anything goes’ culture where every manner of sexual impropriety was encouraged. Multiple partners, promiscuity, immorality, molestation – all of which seems way too rampant in modern Paganism (Kenny Klein anyone? Or better yet, find me outspoken monogamists within the community—please. We need more of them.) were not held up as licit in the ancient world. Of course, all of these things may have occurred (we are a terrible species), but they did not represent the accepted norm. Instead, decorum, gravitas, piety, and modesty (for both men and women) were encouraged. What the hell happened to us? We have a culture in which women are proud to be called “sluts” and marriage is considered outmoded, young people are ‘hooking up’, a culture in which devotion is ridiculed, but reality TV a cultural pastime and we call this progress. I’m not going to rant too much on this – I think y’all know my feelings on these matters and I want to get to the article in question – but suffice it to say that I think in restoring our traditions we have a seriously uphill battle and not just because of monotheism, but because of the utter lack of focus on character building in our culture. We’re starting so far behind the starting line that I wouldn’t be surprised if our ancestors were  appalled.

To get back to the article, it discusses head-covering in Orthodoxy, past and present, between converts and cradle practitioners and the politics thereof. My initial reading of the piece is that the author elides what should be a nuanced and complex topic into something more black and white. She accuses converts who choose to express their piety by actually obeying the customs of their religion, as dismissing the experiences of grandmothers and older generations of women within the faith. In doing so, I think she dismisses the religious experience and devotion of the converts to which she is referring. Covering one’s head is not just a political act. It’s not about feminism or assimilation. First and foremost, in the context in which she’s talking it is about an expression of piety and submission to one’s Church/church doctrine. By presenting it in one light alone, she’s not only attacking converts, but eliding the deep complexity of this practice, turning it into a social or political action rather than a licit expression of devotion. She is asking (or rather demanding) that converts place political considerations and submission to the experience of other women, above the dictates of their conscience and faith. I find that…misguided to say the least. And, as one commenter on twitter noted, she’s turning this practice into a fashion statement (if others around you wear the scarf, wear it, but if they don’t, then you don’t either or you’re self-aggrandizing – my paraphrase) rather than an expression of religious piety.  Her own experience of wearing a headscarf (in Egypt) was one of convenience that she quickly abandoned when Egyptian women pointed out the struggles they and their mothers had endured in fighting against growing fundamentalism is not, in my mind, analogous to covering in Orthodoxy. She was covering in Egypt to avoid harassment, not as a religious mandate for herself.

To abandon a religious practice like covering one’s head in church because it is not popular, because it marks you out as religious, because it is not feminist-approved, or for any other reason, is ceding sacred space to modernity. It is saying that devotion and our Gods are not important enough that one is willing to be a bit uncomfortable. Devotion is always an embodied practice: through song, dance, ritual gestures, clothing choices, bowing our heads in prayer, prostration, and so forth. The act of putting on a head covering for some women can be a significant indicator that they’re shifting into sacred space and I wonder if some of the objection to that isn’t some of the author’s discomfort with drawing boundaries and elevating personal piety as a priority.

It always comes back to what takes precedence: the Gods or our own human bullshit. The author of this piece cannot even seem to conceive of a motive in the converts to which she is referring beyond wanting to draw attention to themselves and she focuses on them as a way to delegitimize the practice, a practice she herself apparently finds personally offensive. I do think that when we do those things that mark us out as pious we have to be careful that they are actually done for the Gods and out of devotion and not to draw attention to ourselves. She has a point there. One shouldn’t cover because it’s popular, not cover because it’s unpopular, but one should do what brings one closer to the Gods and what is mandated by one’s tradition. Next, she’ll be suggesting we engage in sacred dance by twerking in the aisles before the monstrance.

As to women who cover all the time, quite often it’s a desire to maintain some sense not just of appropriate modesty, but of connection to the sacred. It reminds them to privilege that, it brings their bodies into a space of accommodation with their devotion. Yes, we must charge ourselves to avoid immodesty, to avoid spectacle, to avoid showing off, (I’m all in favor of these things in devotion, when it’s for the Gods, but not ever when they are for the glorification of the person). but that doesn’t mean abandoning practices that have served since antiquity. Finally, if women are to have self-determination of practice and being-ness, which they should!—then we have to accept that sometimes they’re going to make choices with which other women may not agree. It’s never as easy as this author wants to make it.

An Example of Heathen Piety

I was thinking about the ‘Lay of Hyndla’ today. There’s a beautiful, haunting passage where Freya talks about the piety of Her servant Ottar, whom She has transformed into the boar, Hildsvini — apologies to Old Norse readers. I’m typing this directly into WordPress and can’t figure out how to do the accent marks.  In Stanza 10, She tells Hyndla about Ottar, indicating why, perhaps, She is willing to help him on his quest. She’s arguing with Hyndla, who is basically a Goddess of genealogy,(1) so that the latter will recite Ottar’s ancestry, enabling the hero to tap into his ancestral blessings. It really shows how important it is to have proper relationships with the Gods and ancestors, and that if you have one, They’ll help with the other. 

10. “For me a shrine | of stones he made,–
And now to glass | the rock has grown;–
Oft with the blood | of beasts was it red;
In the goddesses ever | did Ottar trust.

In other words, Ottar made so many sacrifices, and committed those sacrifices to immolation on Her altar, that the heat of the fires turned the stones to glass. Note that it’s his piety that wins Freya over, not some great heroic deed. May we take him as an example of good, religious behavior.(2)

Notes:

  1. Not everyone in the Northern Tradition views Hyndla as a Goddess, but my particular tradition does.
  2. * sarcasm* I guess that makes Ottar one of the original members of the Piety Posse.

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Gods of Rot and of Decay?

In a private discussion, a colleague told me that someone argued against the need for cleansing on the basis that Gods like Hela and Ereshkigal were Gods of rot and corruption and decay. Another person brought up compost heaps, where decay fuels further growth, all apparently (unless I misunderstood what my colleague was saying) in order to object to the idea that cleansing pollution is fundamental to healthy spirituality (you know, like bathing is fundamental toward not smelling like a dung heap).

This is going to be short and sweet. I have neither the time nor the patience for a long article breaking this down so allow me to get right to the point.

The Gods of the Underworld are not Deities of corruption. They are Deities that guard and nourish the dead. They are often likewise Deities of initiation, and/or Deities that in some way govern the mysteries of the earth and its wealth. It is true that in some cases the Heavenly Powers may not be able to cross into the dwelling of the Underworld Powers (Odin, for instance, cannot cross into Helheim though His sons can. Minerva cannot cross the threshold of the Erinyes’ dwelling. Inanna must undergo purification and ordeal to cross into Ereshkigal’s realm). This is largely because the positions and the power Each holds is so different. To maintain proper boundaries and proper functioning of Their respective realms, there can be no breach of protocol. It would upset the natural order of things.

Corruption is likewise different from rot. Rot is a natural part of the cycle. It is that which allows substance to be repurposed by nature. In this way, yes, I would say that some of these Underworld Deities like Hela are Gods of rot, but not in a way that transcends the need to be mindful of miasma. They allow for the transformation of souls, for the earth to receive what it needs from the rotting bodies of the dead. In its own time and place, that is good and holy. For us, being neither Gods nor dead, contact with that process is miasmic. It is not however, bad or corrupt.

I will say again, as I have many, many times before (perhaps pretend a man is saying it and then it might make more sense to some of you, hmm?): Miasma is not necessarily bad. It is a neutral thing. Sometimes miasma happens as a natural result of coming in contact with something that in and of itself is good (cemeteries, weddings, babies for instance). That doesn’t mean that we don’t need to cleanse. Rotting for instance, is a natural process. One would not, however, (I hope) stick your hand in a rotting piece of road kill and then eat finger foods without a serious engagement with soap and water first. This is no different.

I think to honor the Gods of the dead with the rituals of the Heavenly Powers and vice versa would bring miasma, because that is twisting things out of their natural order, but those Gods Themselves are not “concentrated miasma” as one critic averred. That which is Holy is not miasmic. That does not mean that we might not be rendered miasmic by contact with certain Beings, holy or no. The Holy carries with it a contagion. It marks us and changes us and we have to be careful bringing that back into everyday space. Sometimes it is appropriate to do so, but sometimes not.

We do, in the Northern Tradition have a Holy Power that is fully focused on transmuting Rot, Nidhogg, the great dragon. She takes in rot (like the compost heap) but it doesn’t remain ‘rot’. It’s transmuted, just as purification transmutes.

To quote Kenaz Filan: “Even rot and decay are not in themselves miasmic. A compost heap is a fine thing. But when you put a compost heap in the dining room you have miasma.”

In the end, polytheism is large and flexible enough to contain exceptions such as sin-eating and working with spirits of decay, but these exceptional things don’t invalidate the general need for purification. It is unfair to apply the standards of a rare form of devotion (like sin-eating) to every single polytheist out there. Because that transgressive work, and the necessary flouting of conventions and precautions which doing so requires takes a tremendous  and sometimes devastating toll on the devotee. Why should Jane Heathen, who just wants to make offerings to her household Gods, have to endure those problems, which is what you’re advocating when you suggest casting aside ancestral tradition and things like purification rites? Way to shoot yourselves in the feet, folks.

 

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(Piety Possum, walking away from all your bullshit)

Viva la Revolution

I hate identity politics. I find them utterly inane and it appalls me to see how much they’re seeping into the fabric of our communities. I was thinking about this today as I was studying and contemplating our communities and the Gods. Identity as anything other than a servus or serva deorum (to borrow and slightly amend a term from late antiquity) is, to my mind, both short sighted and sad. 

The only identity that should consume us, drive us, define us, envelop us is as a devotee of our Gods. Anything else is irrelevant, limiting, shallow. What does it matter what gender, orientation, race, size, etc. someone is? These things are variable in comparison with the soul. These things can change. These are things of man. The only identity that matters is whether or not we’re in clean service to our Gods. Be one laity or clergy or somewhere in between, we carry our Gods and Their mysteries with us. We are carriers of Their Mysteries. We carry Them and it’s incumbent upon us to do it well. 

I support indigenous cultures, and the right of each of us to participate in the restoration of our indigenous polytheisms because those are specific expressions of the Mysteries of the Gods. They are containers, sacred and beautiful for those things the Gods may give. Maintaining them is part of being in right relationship with our Gods. They are important but to obsess over genitalia or with whom someone might choose to partner…not so much. Those things are fluid. What do you do then if the Gods tell you to change those things? The flesh is beautiful, pleasurable, sacred, and sometimes even holy but all things of the flesh are transient. It is the Gods that are eternal and immortal. 

Our society, our world more and more is becoming narcissistic, shallow, secular, and soul-warping. Why? Perhaps because when people are like that, they’re easily manipulated. Obsession with identity politics is part and parcel of that. If you have no grounding in anything else other than your ‘identity,’ you can be sold products, you can be divided into opposing camps, you can be rendered irrelevant. Having a grounding in nothing else makes it that much easier to spit on the sacred.

I’ll give you a perfect example. A few days ago Wild Hunt posted an article about the suicide of Pagan artist and shaman Seb Barnett. A “regular commenter,” some foul piece of shit by the name Damiana decided to use this memorial piece as the venue to attack Barnett’s memory. Why? Identity politics (and apparently lack of compassion, piety, sense, and the ability to form a critical argument) to violate this memorial space. It was disgusting to read and very sad. Instead of remembering this poor kid’s death, someone desecrated and dismissed it. Their priorities were not the sacred, not remembrance, not propriety but mindlessly chanting their identity politics to the world (while challenging the opinions of those who are actually of the identity Damiana purported to be defending, at one point even questioning whether or not a commenter was actually Native…because they disagreed). THIS shows exactly what happens when you prioritize identity politics, human nonsense, anything not only above the sacred but also above common decency. One shouldn’t have to be told to respect the dead and the space in which others remember and grieve. If you do, I not only question your identity but your right to call yourself a human being.

The only thing worth one iota of our fervor is the Gods. There’s a wonderful quote by Catherine of Siena, which I’m slightly pluralizing for obvious reasons: “Be what your Gods meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” This world of products, prefabricated identities, and gross irreverence needs to burn. Putting the Gods first would be the truly revolutionary act.

 

 

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 krasskova@gmail.com. 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. 

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