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On Gods and Holy Terror

There was a very good discussion happening last week over at The House of Vines and the subject of holy terror came up. I think this was fundamental to ancient experience of the Gods. The Holy was recognized as being terrifying, even as it was ecstatic and transformative. Contact with the Holy Powers was acknowledged as dangerous, something one needed to prepare for, and something to be treated with utmost reverence and respect.  This sense of the Gods qua Gods, as Powers, as possessing the volition and capability to interact with our world, is, I believe, the defining aspect of pre-modern religious experience.

That sensibility changed dramatically with the Enlightenment and that change was cemented culturally with industrialization. As a result, we are all entrained – by secularism, humanism, modernity, etc.– to position ourselves as central to our spiritualties. The prevailing narrative across modern spiritual traditions is that the Gods are there to help us evolve. It’s all about us reaching our potential, healing, etc. We’ve forgotten what constitutes right relationship. This is further complicated by the fact that for many of us, our first steps in our devotional lives were with Gods Who chose to show Themselves in ways that were very comforting and even healing. Gods can do that, of course, and often do (and it’s a good thing. It does, however, complicate our comprehension of holy terror).  I know for myself, having venerated Odin for many years never giving a thought to hierarchy, protocol, or the potential terror of the Holy, it was a huge shock for me when I first experienced it (and I asked to experience it). It threw my entire spiritual world off kilter for a long time because nothing I had experienced was that terrifying, that overwhelming. It’s one thing to read or have some intellectual sense that yes, the Holy can be terrifying, Gods can be terrifying; to experience that first hand is a totally different animal. I think further cognitive dissonance occurs because while the Gods can be terrifying, They are also positive Powers, “good” if such a small word can encompass Their creative power.

Over at House of Vines, commenter IHJ accurately notes:

“Secular Humanism is their actual religion from which they derive their values. You brought up the subject of “Holy Terror” in your post, and I think this is a key concept missing from the theology of most modern polytheists. They don’t view the Gods as objects of awe. Many of them are obsessed with gaining mainstream social acceptance seemingly blind to the fact that no form of religion that retains its integrity will be allowed a seat at the table in the modern west. Why should we give a fuck about meeting to the moral and cultural expectations of a post-monotheist open air shopping mall which is openly hostile to us? I don’t think that we should be approved by the mainstream, in fact we should go out of our way to radically separate ourselves from it, both to weed out the impious and uncommitted, and to draw the attention of those looking for something real.”

I think this is the source of so many of the divisions that plague our communities (certainly it was behind the 2012 schism over identifiers “Pagan” vs. “Polytheist”). It all comes down to the ontological nature of the Gods and how we position ourselves in relationship to that. I think too often we see Them either as commodities, or (and I’m not sure which is worse) as tangential to our spiritual worlds. A couple of weeks ago as part of my practicum series, a reader asked me about the process of conversion. I think this right here is a key facet of that transformation. It’s not enough to replace one set of divinities with another, to shift to a different liturgical style. We need also to look precisely at this: the terror of the numinous and how we relate to that, or if we’re capable of even conceiving of it in terms that rightly humble us before the Powers.

I don’t have any answers here. I put this out there for contemplation. Our communities, I firmly believe, are riddled with a rejection of the Gods’ nature qua Gods, a nature that eschews any subordination to human limitations. I think that eventually direct experience has the potential to move one past this, but without that direct experience, without the willingness to put oneself in the vulnerable and receptive headspace where such a thing is possible in the first place, and most of all, without the willingness to allow such theophanies to change one’s orientation vis-à-vis the holy, I don’t have any solutions. I just know that this, right here, is something we need to be addressing. It’s one of those defining things for a tradition, and for each and every devotee.

the political is spiritual — The House of Vines

Every word.

Apropos of my last post … [Edited to add: woops, I meant to link this post, though I suppose the other works too.] How does destroying statues of elk and mermaids get justice for George Floyd, Elijah McClain or Breonna Taylor, let alone all of the poor White, Latino, Indigenous, Queer, et alia lives that […]

via the political is spiritual — The House of Vines

Sigyn – QOTD

I’ve been meditating on Sigyn quite a lot the last few days. My husband has a poem about Her in his new book (which will be available shortly) and I want to share a line from it that so perfectly encapsulates Her power: 

“She is as old as the mountains and as young as yearning.” 

However She chooses to present Herself, this, more than anything else I’ve ever read on Her, or at least that i’ve read in a very long while, so beautifully describes Her. 

A Sneak Peak – exclusive for my readers. :)

Sannion is working on a new book but he’s not been posting any previews. This morning, however, I talked him into letting me share this one, based on what happened in our hof last weekend. I cannot wait for the whole book to be out!

 Something to Sing About

by H. Jeremiah Lewis

I’m perched on the edge of my seat,
my whole body rocking to the rhythm
of the drum as the apprentice of the Vitki
cleanses pollution and bad vibrations
from the room, while another sings
an Anglo-Saxon fire song,
circumambulating with a beeswax
pillar candle on a red and black plate.
I can see the face of world-breaking Loki
dancing in the flame,
and behind the apprentice,
as he winds serpentwise round the shrines
burning away the dross in the air,
a legion of those who fell in defense
of their blood and soil and ancestral traditions
against the encroachments of the giant
tyrant Charlemagne, stand at his back
lending their potency to his words and deeds.
Another passes by, sprinkling everything with
ivy-leaf chernips – everything including
the husband of the Vitki, who growls
wolfishly and shakes his head
when the holy drops splash him.
The girl smiles and rushes to finish the room,
as he goes back to chanting, “Nothing can be
so firmly bound – by illness, by wrath or by fortune –
that cannot be released by the Lord Dionysos,”
and shakes a femur rattle.
The Vitki is not home.
Oh, her body is standing right there
before all of them, savagely beautiful
with shaved head, white
ash upon her face and Runes inscribed
in red ochre, blue and silver
Evil Eye charms dangling from her ears,
white shirt, black pants and a red belt
strung with bells and charms,
amulets and chaplets,
and a hand-forged blót knife
sheathed at her side.
She is pacing about like a brooding,
impatient bear who has a hell of a lot to say
and there’s a set of knucklebones,
a pad of paper, and a pen
just sitting right there on the table
waiting for him, so let’s get to it.
Oh fuck. Odin’s not just making a direct call
– he’s here, in the flesh so to speak.
The Vitki’s husband is already shooing
the apprentices out of the room, drilling
them on what will need to be done
by way of aftercare. This is a spontaneous
possession, with no time for prep.
And Odin enters rough.
I sit on the floor facing him,
give a respectful nod,
and prepare to act as sacred scribe,
as I have so many times,
and for so many mediums before.
His voice, when it comes, is crabby
and cold like the gnarled branch
of a cemetery tree after an overlong winter,
like an old man who deals in philtres,
herblore, abortions, bindings and unbindings,
does strange things with animal bits
and has suffered much to come
by his dark knowledge.
Most of all he is like something
that has gone mad on the battlefield,
and stopped being entirely human.
It was an effort to maintain eye-contact
with him as he didn’t quite sing
and didn’t quite speak
and didn’t quite caw
or furiously roar
or rant or rage
with the voice that remade
the raw viscera of his father’s corpse
into the ordered world we inhabit
– but it wasn’t not like all of that either.
No matter how experienced you are
it is always fucking nuts sitting
face to face with your Gods.
Especially when they have as much to say
as Odin did that night.
And also, he was pissed
– like p-i-s-s-e-d pissed –
especially when a little black ant
scuttled into view.
He leaned down and galdered at it.
Odin’s voice was terrible,
violent, mad, like
the shriek of a sword
or a beast’s claws
scratching at the door
– and the creature withered up on the spot.
I knew more was going on behind the curtain,
so I closed my eyes and there in the dark
stood Odin the Slaughterer, Gallows Meat,
the King upon his Mound, Storm-Bringer,
and Warlord.
He held his spear up in greeting
and dangling from it was the corpse
of a thing that looked like an ant
but was the size of a large dog.
It did not always look that way
– we had seen its various forms
over the last couple weeks,
in our restless sleep,
as shadowy movement
out of the corner our eyes,
as the smell of shit and random spikes
in anxiety, depression and surliness
for no discernible reason,
and once as a nag with no head
standing in the mist beyond our yard.
Before I could express my gratitude
I was snapped back to myself by the Vitki
who was seething and singing
how the Runes were revealed
on the wind-swept Tree,
and I oathed to the Old Man
right there on the spot
that I would make poetry of the story
to thank him for protecting
the members of our household,
who are dearer to me than my birth family.
And so I have. I pray, Lord, may I, my Vitki
and our apprentices be always
safe, secure, prepared and immune
to the snares and attacks of our foes
in this and the other worlds,
so that our household may be
a welcoming place for you
and the Gods and Spirits
who stand with you always,
with plentiful offerings,
everflowing libations,
and acts of worship beyond counting
to please your hearts.

Daily Hymns

Sannion has written a lovely sequence of daily prayers to Dionysos, one for each day of the week. Check them out here: via Daily Hymns

Tree of Life is Worth Preserving and Defending

“The erosion of traditions everywhere harms everyone. ”  –Sannion

(Said in response to a conversation I was having about the watering down of Catholic traditions. I don’t have a horse in that race but I have opinions on it and this is why. Everyone has been entrusted with their traditions and that’s a small piece of the whole and when that becomes corrupt or broken, something vital is lost. Everyone plays a part in keeping those traditions whole: clergy, laity, specialists, et al.

This in particular reminds me of the situation faced by the Stellinga, polytheists warriors  who rose up in response to the felling of the Irminsul and other sacred trees. For them, the felling of those trees was the destruction of their world, values, and way of life and the worlds of the ancestors because in Germanic cosmology those trees are what hold up each of the worlds and those worlds need to be distinct and contained to be healthy. With the dissolution of boundaries and everything blurring and crashing together, the loss of tradition, the loss of meaning, everything dissolves into chaotic nothingness and that’s the Ragnarok that they faced. It’s also the Ragnarok we’re facing today. Don’t think of these as one time events but as the result of the corruption and destruction of our traditions. With every tradition lost a world collapses.

We need to fight all the harder for the restoration and preservation of our traditions or we’ll be swept into the chaos of the Void).

old apple tree

A New Div. System

So Sannion just finished a fantastic book on divination — I think it’s probably the most important book he’s written. I’m chomping at the bit for it to be generally available (I got to read the file before he sent it over for formatting and I was blown away). Of course I’ll post about it here when it is available, but I want to share a system that I stole and adapted from his book. 

Of course he stole it first from my people. LOL. He adapted this from Anglo-Saxon sources for use in a more Bacchic-Orphic practice, and I took it back and re-adapted it for a Mani-centric practice. This is what happens when you let a Southern Italian Orpheotelest loose in your library. Anyway, here it is (my version) for those who might be interested.

The Mirror of the Moon

When the moon is new on a Sunday, that signifies three things will happen during the month: rain, wind and calm. It also signifies barrenness of cattle and old men’s sicknesses – but health and fitness among the young men. Make offerings to the Mothers.

If it is new on a Monday, that signifies sorrow for those who are born and young men’s heads will ache in that month. Make offerings to Heimdall.

If it is new on a Tuesday, that signifies joy for all men, and grief for the young. Make offerings to Narvi and Vali.

If it is new on a Wednesday, that signifies that peaceful men will dwell among loyal friends. An end to ancient feuds and generational enmity. Make offerings to Mani.

If it is new on a Thursday, that signifies the health of kings through potent drugs. Make offerings to Odin.

If it is new on a Friday, there will be good hunting that month. Make offerings to Frey.

If it is new on a Saturday that signifies strife, and bloodshed, and whoever begins it with the south wind will have the victory. Make offerings to the Nine Daughters of Ran and Aegir.

 

It’s weird offering to Mani on Wed. and Odin on Thurs. — those aren’t the usual days but I did divination while adapting this and these are the Powers that stepped forward. The placement of the moon signifies the overall influences moving through the month. The diviner extrapolates from the information given. The offerings can be done as a matter of course when this is consulted or in order to better the outcome for the month. 

 

Defend Tradition

The Temple of Those Who Roar Ecstatically

I’m so excited this site is actually available! It contains the lore of the Starry Bull tradition all compiled in one place. So much goodness here. 🙂

Take a Moment, Folks…

I spent most of the day watching the news about Munich and then I found out about an attack on an indigenous holy site (by Christians) and an attack on a Wiccan Church and I actually felt as though the chaos and hatred were seeping into my veins. Every time we turn on the news it seems like there’s another attack. I think that we should be aware and engaged, but I also think we need to take care that we tend to ourselves as well, otherwise we will be consumed by the poison. It is poison, pollution, I would go so far as to say miasma. That being said, I know that I need to be much more careful how much time I allow myself to read the news. I’m only now realizing how much of an issue this is. Let me tell you a story.

Someone recommended a book to me last week. I got it and read it in one sitting and it infuriated me. It was the story of a girl who fled poverty and a bi-polar mother and alcoholic father (at the very least in terms of diagnoses) to the city only to have them track her down to “reunite the family.” it angered me so much I wanted to string the parents up and inflict upon them he same type of brutality they had inflicted upon their child through their own incompetence, unacknowledged mental health challenges, and unresolved issues. The story was autobiographical to the author which gave it that much more power. I was just wrathful after reading it and after I’d raged for awhile, Sannion told me to go do a cleansing. He’s got really good instincts so I did and afterwards I realized I’d absorbed miasma from the story that I’d been exposed to. It’s almost like virulent second hand smoke. The ideas, images, and emotional impact got in even though I was just reading words on a page. It shifted my internal world, my emotions and psyche around in a way that I was no longer centered or clean. I was no longer in a state of proper spiritual receptivity. I had to do a cleansing. If reading a book — however good and evocative it might be–can do that, how much more so can the constant barrage of hate and violence that is filling our world: black men being shot, cops being shot, terrorist attacks in major cities the world over, destruction of sacred places, and more on and on and on every single day. We can be affected by what we take in.

Tonight, I ended up getting my ass offline and going to dinner and a movie with my husband. I needed to cleanse my mind of the violence that I was imbibing. I had a ton of work I wanted to do, but having that moment where I could reset myself was more important. I can’t do clean work if i’m not clean myself. I can go back and read the news and ponder these things and write and engage later but for my own spiritual health, i needed to step back. I think it’s important that we do that from time to time. Get offline, read a book, watch a funny movie, go spend time with family and friends, go make offerings to the Gods, go for a walk in the woods — whatever restores your soul.

I also think that we can do something else. A long time ago, Sannion posted his “laws of Sannion” and I was amused and read them and thought ‘damn, that’s pretty good advice.” One of them is to redress the balance. How can we do that when there is so much horror in the world? I don’t know what answers each of you will come up with, but for me, i’ve decided that every time I see or read or hear something horrible, I’m going to go out and do some unexpected kindness for a random person. It’s a small thing, but it is a way of redressing the balance in myself and in my world at large — my territory if you will. I think that these things create ripples and those ripples expand outward, circles within circles and they do affect the wyrd.

That is all. Just…learn from my experience and don’t internalize the fear and hatred. We can address it most thoughtfully and efficiently if we do not in the end bow our heads and hearts to it, and that takes constant effort.