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More Musings on Lineage: Emma Livry (1842-1863)

Lineage is a fragile thing. I think about that every time I think about ballet, and I probably learned more about what it takes to maintain and nourish a lineage through having been a dancer than in all the studies and religious work I’ve done since. Lineage is connection, power, tradition, rootedness, identity, culture, and that culture is directed at maintaining and expressing something precious (be it devotion in our case as polytheists, or beauty and art, a different type of devotion, in the case of the dancers I’m discussing here). It is passed through bodies, through the stories, material culture, and lived experience of one generation to the next.  One generation takes the next in hand, carefully forming them, teaching them, helping them, and entrusting to them whatever lineage and tradition it is that one carries. That is a sacred trust, something to be cherished, reverenced, protected. 

In ballet, it’s not just greatness that is shaped this way, but the endurance of specific choreographies, pedagogies, and ballets themselves. One learns directly from those who danced before one. One dancer teaches a particular role to another, or a dancer begins to teach and passes on all he or she has learned to those students seeking to step into the art, and that is how the lineage and tradition survives. It is terrifyingly ephemeral. Break that chain and you can shatter the lineage. 

It is the same with religious traditions, which is why intergenerational passage of knowledge i.e. polytheists raising children as polytheists, cultivating devotion from the womb is so terribly important. We don’t have the societal structure (yet) to support any type of devotion let alone ours, but we can make our households, our homes, our minds, and our hearts living temples to the Gods one by one. We can restore. There’s a line in the Talmud that says that to save a single soul is to save the entire world. I’d like to think that raising up one good polytheist or being one oneself, or leaving behind a body of work to help the next generation, is similarly restorative to our traditions in the world. Anyway, I’m digressing when instead I specifically want to talk about a break in ballet lineage. 

In the mid 19th century, there were two main centers of ballet: France and Italy. Denmark also had a significant school. The Imperial Russian school existed but hadn’t yet come into the fullness of its tradition. That would take thirty plus years of Italian and French dancers and ballet masters working in St. Petersburg and sharing their knowledge, establishing clear lines of pedagogy, and training up several generations of dancers, each better than the last. After 1863 the locus of ballet moved to Italy and then Russia and French ballet fell into … not oblivion but let us say disregard. I’ll explain in a moment. It wasn’t until the Ballet Russe – shaped by French and Italian pedagogy – returned to Paris in the early 20thcentury that French ballet experienced a renaissance. I believe strongly that part of the reason for French ballet losing its place for close to a hundred years was the death of ballerina Emma Livry (and I will caution you before you read further, I’m going to talk about her death, and it was horrific). 

Emma Livry, my collection

In each generation there are dancers who stand out from the rest, the truly great artists and/or pedagogues. The heaviest weight of a tradition rests on their shoulders and they pass it on to their apprentices and students. They infuse the ballet tradition of a particular place with power, life, and vitality and make it shine like the sun in its glory. In the generation before Livry, the key dancers were Marie Taglioni (1804-1884) and Fanny Essler (1810-1884 – Essler actually visited the east coast of the US on one of her many tours! She performed in Baltimore).  There was also Carlotta Grisi (1819-1899), Lucille Grahn (1819-1907), and Fanny Cerrito (1817-1909). It’s important to note that many of these women were also noted choreographers, a fact that until recently received very little attention (1). The same can be said for their predecessor Marie Salle (1709-1756). While all of these dancers at some point danced at the Paris Opera Ballet, it was Taglioni who truly reigned in Paris (and I think can probably be counted the greatest of the dancers mentioned here, though she and Essler were rivals on pretty equal terms technique-wise. Their artistic styles were almost diametrically opposed).

Emma Livry was Taglioni’s student and protegee. Before she met Taglioni, she debuted at age sixteen at the Paris Opera ballet in Taglioni’s signature role La Sylphide. When Taglioni saw her dance, she took Livry as a student and eventually choregraphed a ballet named Le Papillon (the butterfly) for the girl. Livry was incredibly talented and a noted sculptor at the time, Jean-Auguste Barre created sculptures of her. She was praised by ballet critics and it was clear, even in her own day, that she was the one destined to inherit the mantle of the French ballet tradition, and in doing so, carry it into the next generation. Sadly, tragically – and I don’t use that word often—that did not happen. 

On November 15, 1862, during a ballet rehearsal, her skirts caught fire. At that time, stages were lit by gaslights, not electricity. There had been fire related deaths before due to this, so dancers had the option of fire-proofing their skirts. Livry, as many dancers, declined because the substance used in fireproofing made the skirts stiff, unpleasant, and more importantly heavy. When she went up in flames, two male dancers rushed to help her, but by the time they were able to put the fire out, she was so burned that the stays of her corset (dancers wore corsets when they danced in the 19th century) had burned/fused into her ribs. Her face and breasts were unburned. Taglioni was present and tried to help her as the girl as well, and it is recorded Livry prayed fervently immediately after the ordeal. She didn’t die immediately but lingered bed-bound for months in an agony it is recorded she bore with piety and stoicism, dying on July 26, 1863. She died of septicemia when her wounds reopened (they never really healed) at the age of twenty. She is buried in Montmartre Cemetery. I knew most of this from my own time in ballet, but here’s the wiki article on her. 

Livry in “La Sylphide,” image from wiki (her arch in that standing foot is stunning)

As a dancer, Livry was particularly noted for her extraordinary ballon: the quality of her jumps, the ability to jump lightly and to seemingly hover in the air. Le Papillon was the only ballet Marie Taglioni ever choreographed.

Here’s the thing: the power of French ballet died with her for decades. It’s a noticeably glaring gap in the history of ballet. Many of the leading pedagogues had moved to St. Petersburg (which led to the glory days of the Imperial ballet there, and the Ballet Russe, which returned and repaid the debt to France generations later). Livry’s death, however, left a lacuna in the mid 19th century that no other French dancer could fill. I’m not the only historian to note this. I can’t recall where I read it, possibly here, but other historians have also pointed out that with Livry’s death, ballet in France went into a serious decline (2). 

I will close by pointing out that the work you do matters. It doesn’t matter how big or small it is. It matters even if all you’re doing is choosing to pray or make an offering. In the eyes of our Gods, I do not believe this is insignificant. It is restoration, the whisper of lineage, devotion and in a tiny way, the restoration of our world. Never ever doubt that your lives matter, that the choices you make matter. You may not realize how much at the time.  You don’t have to be a spiritual specialist like a spirit worker or priest for that to be true.  It matters and what you create matters. So, find your devotional voice. Find the medium by which you will bring beauty into the world and throw yourself into it without hesitation. It doesn’t matter if others think it ‘good.’ Pray. Do your devotions. Bring beauty into the world and know that in doing so you are reweaving delicate threads of traditions through which the Gods, I think, are aching to express Themselves. You’re restoring windows to the world through which They can act. May be so always and may you be blessed in the striving.

γινέσθω

Notes: 

  1. Until the past two, maybe three years, there was in ballet circles the mistaken idea that until the 20th century choreographers were male. Even now, it’s still seen as men choreograph, women dance. This is not the case at all though historically. Women, from the earliest significant periods of ballet, like Marie Salle in the 18th century, were choreographers, and noted as such in their heyday. 
  2. The prestige of French ballet began to rise again in the 1920s (after the Ballet Russe re-infused ballet there with vitality). Several noted Imperial ballerinas, most especially Matilda Kchessinska , Olga Preobrajenska, and I believe, Lyubov Egorova began teaching in Paris. Then there was ballerina Yvette Chauvire and Claude Bessy, the latter the youngest child to ever be admitted to the Paris Opera Ballet School, and who later became director of the school. Both of whom helped train the incomparable Sylvie Guillem, and thus the tradition in France was revived, restored, and holds its place today as one of the great schools of modern ballet. 

Happy Walpurgis/Beltane

This past weekend (April 30/May 1) saw my Household celebrating a major holy tide (as we call our key holy days), one of the eight major ones that make up our year: Walpurgisnacht and Beltane. It’s the final transition from the dark enclosure of winter into the growth and fecundity of summer. It’s also the same holy day, it’s just that part of the celebration takes place the night before. I had to explain this to one of my students—not an academic student but a woman that I’m training for the clergy. Within my religious tradition, we train our clergy one on one and this year she is focusing on following the cycle of holy days and really learning what they’re about (yes, I have major seminary envy of all my Jesuit friends lol). Little by little, I’ve been giving her a larger role in each liturgy and the Deity to Whom she is dedicated, Freya, has a particular association with this holiday. 

Anyway, on Walpurgis, we usually start our religious revels at twilight. First divination is done to make sure we are doing what is desired and correct in the eyes of our Gods. Then, if that looks good, we get to work. I’ll go out before everyone else, make offerings to all the local spirits of land, mountain, tree, and town. I’ll light a fire. We have two ritual spaces in our home, the first our indoor ritual room and the second, a space behind my house with a huge fire pit. All safety precautions, like fire extinguisher and hose are set up earlier in the day and checked before I begin ritual prep. Walpurgisnacht is a day for shamanizing, for meeting the Gods and spirits joyously on Their own ground. In larger groups who are fortunate enough to have a spirit-worker, vitki, or “shaman,” this spiritual technician garbs in sacred garb and takes his or her drum, mask, and staff and begins calling the spirits. We invoke our Gods, we call to the spirits, we make offerings into the fire but most of all, we dance and pray moving into a deep and potent altered state. We dance and pray to shake the threads of our communal wyrd free of stagnation, free of malefica, free of anything out of alignment with the order of the Gods. We restore and realign ourselves and our community so that we may move into the time of growth and planting cleanly. We dance so that nothing may remain embedded in our community’s wyrd (threads of fate) that might twist us out of true, or cause us to grow wrongly with respect to our Gods in the coming season. We dance in praise of our Gods and all the spirits that serve Them. The shaman works that drum while others keep the fire burning until there are no more prayers left to be said, no more praise songs left to be sung,  and any spiritual brambles and trash occluding the way forward in the sacred cycle of the year has been burned away. 

The next day is a community celebration. The Gods and spirits are honored and there is (in larger communities – we try, but we are a small House) mumming and a maypole. Beltane is about the land coming back to green and bursting life. It’s about fertility and pleasure, joy, and growth and the blessings these things bring to the community. We don’t have enough people in our House to do a proper Maypole but there are other rites we do and there is always a ritual and then a communal feast. In my book “Devotional Polytheism,” when writing about this holy tide, I also note that it “is about sex. Well, ok it’s not just about sex but it is about loosing creativity and readying the land for summer growth, and the explosion of life that comes with the turning of the seasonal year to spring. It’s a seasonal festival all about fertility and fire, abundance, and rampant, unadulterated, unapologetic creativity. It’s about coming and the burning in the loins, and the earth’s seasonal orgasm that brings a flood of life into being as spring turns to summer and the land yields its bounty to the blazing beauty of the sun.”   

So go out there and have a frolicking good time. Let us celebrate this holy tide the way our ancestors did: with abandon. Let us bring back our ecstatic rites and let us celebrate our Gods with joy. Here is one of the prayers to Freya that I really like (and Freya is not the only Deity invoked. It varies from House to House, and I tend to emphasize Her when writing about Beltane because my key apprentice at the moment is a Freya’s woman). 

To the Boar-Rider 

(prayer by H. Jeremiah Lewis*)

Hail victory-bringing Goddess
with braids of electrum, eyes like ice
and a countenance even colder,
clever Freyja of snaring schemes
and snaky stratagems
whose beauty is stern,
severe, indomitable
and utterly Hyperborean
when you stand firm
in the war-council of the Gods
with your Giant-dispatching ash-spear,
your handsome boar tusk helm,
and your gleaming sun-bedecked linden shield as well.
You speak far-seeing words,
hard words and brutal,
which the Gallow’s God, Borr’s son,
the High One approves of.
Oft have you sparred and oft fought as allies; 

of the two, Óðinn much prefers the latter. You won his respect, O Freyja;
he knows your worth,
and will never again underestimate 

the one who is mighty with mead.
For once you roared out onto the field
astride your gold-bristled charger
and there appeared nothing cool,
calm or collected about you.
No, your eyes rolled back
and your body seethed and shuddered
as violent cantrips tore themselves
from your lovely throat
like the call of crows or wolf’s howl,
and fearful frenzies lashed your foes,
driving them shrieking
before you and your violent kin.
Glad is Sigþrór and Glapsviðr
to have one so heiðr to fight beside
with the dire day of doom,
darkness, damnation and desolation
drawing ever nearer.
Help me to meet my own
trials, obstacles and antagonists
with will unwavering and mind unfettered as your own, O Mistress of the Battle Din and Delight of Soldiers. 

* Used with permission – he’s my husband. I looked over and asked him if I could share these lol. This isn’t a regular Walpurgis prayer, but comes from our household prayer book. I like it because it focuses on Freya as a protector of soldiers and Goddess of war).

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In Our House, Iðunn Rules the Year

(I’ve been meaning to post this since New Year’s Day). 

Every January, usually on New Year’s Day, our household does divination for the coming year, a ‘reading of the year’ if you will. We seek several things: which Deity “owns” the year; are there any taboos we must follow; what are the key influences over every month? This, then, guides our entire year. One of the most important of those questions is which Deity governs the year and we were all [happily] shocked by what our div showed. 

I won’t go into the particulars of the divination itself. That is for our House; but I will share that our divination showed that Iðunn governs the year. I was shocked and delighted because the last couple of years have been so intensely grueling, so exhausting and in the face of that, Iðunn’s promise is that what was old will become new again. She offers joy and renewed inspiration and excitement in those areas that have become rote and stale. With this Goddess stepping forward for the year, we are told that it will be a year of transformations and surprises. We are counselled to expected εκστασις and breakthroughs, creatively and spiritually. Essentially, regardless of what else this year brings, it is time to shake off the dust and depression and fill our celebrations with joy and love of the divine.  

Prayer to Idunna

Goddess of regeneration,
Bearer of the Blessed Apples,
Wife of the God of Poetry's Fire
I hail You. 

The Sweetness of growth, 
the tartness of change,
the crisp tautness of eternal balance:
these are Your mysteries, 
These the fruits of Your blessings. 

Bless me, Sweet Idunna. 
Tend my heart, and mind, and spirit, 
that my love for the Gods may never wither.
That is the apple whose bite I would beg, 
that is the gift I would cherish the most, 
from Your hands alone. 

Gracious Goddess, 
to You, I pray. 
hail, Idunna. 

(by G. Krasskova)


Likewise, for each month, we drew a rune to interpret what influences would guide that month. I share them here, without further comment.

Runes for each month:

January - Laguz
February - Kenaz
March - Inguz
April - Algiz
May - Isa
June - Eiwaz
July - Raido
August - Ehwaz
September Nauðiz
October - Sowilo
November - Hagalaz
December - Thursisaz

  

Good luck!

My own shrine to Idunna, last year when I first put it up.

On Family

In a recent discussion on a previous post of mine here, the subject of “family” came up. I don’t often talk about family, but this is a blog in part about things relevant to contemporary polytheisms, to their restoration, and their longevity, and to the nurturing of devotion. As such, “family” is an important topic, one which, in my ham-fisted way, I’m going to touch on it here just a little. I spent most of my twenties hostile to the whole idea of “family.” My own experience with my birth family had been less than pleasant (1). It took having a deeply devout adopted mom to help me sort all of that out and learn to cherish this idea of “family” as something good and necessary to healthy communities. 

When I say family, I do not necessarily restrict that to father-mother-children. In fact, while I believe there should be male and female role models in the family to help guide and nourish the children, I think restricting that to just the parents is deeply divisive, stressful, and destructive. It puts a tremendous pressure on the parents while providing little to no resources or accountability. We need our extended family, our grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, and more; and on top of that, we need to situate all of this in an awareness of our ancestors – that there is that family going back as far as we could ever imagine, of which we too will be a part one day. The nuclear family is an aberration. If you look just throughout the world today, and most certainly throughout history, it was and is more common to have extended family living together and helping each other out, instilling intergenerational virtues and building up functional, healthy, pious adults (2). 

It’s become the vogue today, especially amongst those who consider themselves “woke,” who draw a good deal of their rhetoric and raison d’etre from Marxism, to dismiss the family as a wicked and patriarchal institution that serves no purpose but the abuse of those within its confines. What nonsense. Yet, this nonsense is gaining traction in our communities. Mind you, I’ve yet to see a workable alternative presented, because there isn’t one. Family is fundamental (especially when you expand the definition of family beyond the nuclear. (3)). Of course, “family” doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It exists within a culture, a society, a community that may or may not reinforce the values of one’s kin. In our modern world, family can be a fortress in which piety may be nourished and allowed to grow, a curative and medicine for the spiritual pollution infecting our world (4).

Personally, I’ve come to believe that family is an absolute essential building block of any sustainable tradition. It is the way that a proper …I’ll use a Roman term and if that hurts your brain, too bad …pax deorum begins: first in the individual, then the family, then the community, then the city and outward in ever larger circles. It is a sacred thing, something to be cherished and nurtured. “Mother” and “Father” are sacred titles and should carry with them an awareness of the power and responsibility of those roles. What is it that Swinburne wrote? “Mother is the name of God on every child’s tongue…” (5). Family is the best means of passing a religious tradition on to the next generation, and the best way of rooting it as a long-term societal presence. A healthy family is also the best way of correcting societal ills; it starts at home. 

I recommend the Tove’s article as well, as part of this discussion. Also, thank you, Guasón, for inspiring this piece. You are awesome. 

Notes:

  1. For a number of reasons, mostly having to do with intergenerational trauma; happily though, in my thirties I was able to heal some of those rifts and make peace with my biological family. 
  2. If you’re not pious I don’t think you’re actually healthy. That piety may look different in each person depending on tradition/gods/etc. but part of raising a healthy child is exercising their spiritual muscles and teaching them what it means to be in right relationship with the Gods, i.e. passing on your tradition.
  3. Sometimes we make our families. Envision it how you want and create it but understand it’s an essential building block for sustainable polytheistic communities or indeed any community. 
  4. No, I don’t think that we should keep children confined and away from any interaction with the world at large. What I think is that we should be providing them with protection – emotionally and spiritually- from the forces of uncreation. We should be nurturing them in ways that allow them to develop strength and courage, devotion, and goodness. We should be making space for them to bring their questions and to share what they are receiving from the world at large and how and why that may or may not accord with our values. 
  5. Which is why child abuse of any sort is absolutely anathema. Healthy communities, religious or otherwise, root that shit out assiduously. There is no room now or ever in our communities for someone who would sexually or physically assault a child or a spouse.  

Apostasy in our Communities

I hate having to make this post. The subject is one, however, that needs to be addressed by those of us who have been in the community long enough to know the history of the person in question. I really hate having to write this. 


Apparently Swain Wodening is back, after having apostatized, broken faith with our Gods, after he returned to Christianity, and after he’s written at least one book “Letting Go to Live with Christ” (and this is not going into detail about what an execrable human being he is on a personal level). He’s lurking in multiple Facebook Heathen groups under his legal name Berry Canote. 


So far, there has been no explanation of his apostasy, no contrition, no humility. Is he coming back in troth or coming back to proselytize? Or is he coming back because he didn’t get enough attention after his apostasy (after all, Christian groups might pet and fawn over the converted Pagan for a year or two but eventually that fame fades). Why should we ever trust the word of a man with so little honor?


Swain was not just  regular laity. He was in positions of authority and leadership within Heathenry. He broke his word and turned his back on the Gods. We need to hold our leaders and elders to a higher standard or what’s the point? If someone is going to constantly swing back and forth between Heathenry, Christianity, Heathenry, Christianity, etc. they are unreliable and having broken their word, having broken troth to the degree that he did, we should not easily allow such a person to return to our communities without censure. Nor should he ever be given any position of leadership again ever. 


It’s not even that he went Christian…a polytheist can honor the Christian Gods if he or she wants. No, Swain fully turned his back on the Gods and became a monotheist. This isn’t the same as syncretic practice, adding more Deities to your family shrine; this is a renunciation of our Holy Powers and once you do that, there should not be an easy way back. Personally, I don’t think there should be a way back at all, but if we’re being generous, the fucker should have to prove himself for a very long time. 


At some point, we need to establish strict standards in dealing with garbage like this. There is no place in our community for atheists and there’s certainly no place for those who abandon the Gods in the way that he did to traipse back in expecting to be welcomed with open arms. This is a religion not a fucking social club. 

EDIT: I would add if it were a lay person struggling with his or her faith, we could work with that and probably should work with that, but this was someone who was a leader in the heathen community for years, who influenced many people, and who behaved abominably. and, moreover, who has evinced no contrition or explanation upon his return and who is sneaking back in under his legal name, not the one he used before as if to hide. no. no. and no

A Brief Discussion of Spiritworker Taboos

In the comments section of my previous post, one of my readers asked a really good question about the taboos that spirit-workers often have, how they work, and why. It was such a good question that I decided to post it here separately, along with my response. 

Firstly, a word on terminology. When I use the term “taboo” in this context, I am referring to proscriptions (either positive or negative) upon some aspect of behavior that spirit-workers often experience from their Gods, spirits, or sometimes as a result of particular rules within a lineage. This may include things that cannot be done, worn, eaten, etc. or conversely, things that must be done, and even protocols that must be followed over and above what would fall on regular laity. (I’ve been known to refer to this latter category with the Irish term geasa, singular: geas, but that’s my personal usage having been exposed to the Irish terminology early on. Most of us just refer to them as “taboos”). That is not to say that specific Deities won’t have particular protocols that one must follow when approaching that Deity’s shrine (for instance, washing hands and anointing with khernips before approaching Apollo’s shrine, or women covering their heads when going to traditional Catholic mass – as random examples), but those protocols are universal to anyone approaching that Deity or that sacred space. They’re not a matter of X restriction or obligation being laid on Y person because that person is a spirit worker in service to Z Deity. Lay people do not usually have to worry about this type of thing, not in the compulsory way that spirit-workers will often experience, ALTHOUGH in many traditions a goodly portion of what a spiritworker does is sort out taboos for laity, so your mileage may vary—initiatory traditions, for instance, often have taboos for individual initiates as a matter of course. From here on out, I’m going to write from the perspective of a spiritworker who has mostly divined on the question of taboo for other spiritworkers. I hope that makes sense because this is actually the first time I’ve ever written about this in any depth, so I’ve never really had to parse it out like this before.  

I’ll also add, don’t be a stupid jackass and go looking for taboos. The Gods are ever more willing to give than we are to receive, and spirit workers who are just so certain that to be real, live spirit workers, they MUST have taboos are likely to find that the Gods listen and give rather unpleasant, or at least inconvenient ones. You’ve done it to yourselves, people. Just let the work teach you and lead you where you need to go and listen to the advice of your elders. 

So, in my previous post, David asked: “I guess I’m asking- if one has them, what type of taboos are they? What governs the practice- by what gnosis? Lineage? I guess I’d just like an overview of how that works. Thank you.”

All good questions but difficult to answer because there’s no set way this happens. It’s not formulaic. Every real spirit worker that I know has a passel of taboos, some large, some small but there’s no rhyme or reason to it that we ourselves know even amongst those owned by the same Deity (though, of course, I am fully convinced that the Gods have a plan there and it makes perfect sense to Them–we just can’t see it). In fact, two people owned by the same Deity can have precisely opposite taboos. There’s no telling when or if one will get them either. Someone may end up getting hit within their first few months of service, others only after years, and some lucky devils not at all. 

I want to emphasize again that with certain practices, or certain Deities, or certain shrines, traditions may teach that there is a protocol to be followed by everyone. That is not a taboo. That is just part of pious respect. 

Now, with taboos, often a spirit worker can sort of feel them coming on. One will start to have an adverse reaction to certain fabrics or foods, for instance, when no medical allergy exists. Sometimes something will just start to feel really, really wrong. That’s usually the point at which the spirit worker will consult one of her tradition’s diviners to find out what’s going on (or more likely avoid it as long as possible in the hopes you are wrong. This does not work by the way. Lol). Often taboos will be given to a spirit worker to help sort out a problem that the spirit worker is having. Maybe a spirit worker is having problems with his Gods, and this is a means of rectifying that. In the negative, perhaps a spiritworker has abused a privilege and the taboo is the corrective. More usually, it’s a neutral thing that happens as a result of the various changes and modifications that spiritwork brings about in a person. Sannion noted in a conversation we had, that it’s not always a negative response to something that is the first sign a taboo is coming on; sometimes one can have a deep attraction to things that end up then becoming taboos. He’s right, and I’ve certainly experienced that myself. 

I do think that taboos are meant to strengthen the spirit worker in some way, or his/her connection to his/her cadre of Holy Powers. We always end up having to discourage “baby” (new) spirit workers from seeking out taboos or pretending, in their enthusiasm, that they have them, or copying another spirit worker. Just stop. Having them doesn’t make you a better spiritworker. It doesn’t make you more legitimate. It’s just a byproduct sometimes of the Work. It’s certainly not something to seek. They’ll come if they come and if you pretend, you might get hit with one hard and fast that you don’t like. It’s not like we get to choose them after all and often they’re damned inconvenient. 

Food and clothing taboos seem, as far as I can tell, to be the most common. I also think there’s some aspect of “othering” to certain taboos – that the spirit worker is meant to stand out as a carrier of the holy and we see this in anthropological accounts of “shamans” quite a bit. It’s interesting but I haven’t made a study of it. I just cuss when I realize I’ve had a new taboo dropped on my head. Often, quite often, taboos can be about protection too and ritual purity — an awful lot of mine have to do with avoiding miasma. 

 Some taboos come with lineage. So, if one is initiated to a particular Deity, and certain patterns occur during the divination thereafter, then xyz taboos are laid as a matter of course. Sometimes, a spirit worker will receive a taboo via theophany or more often personal gnosis. (A spirit worker will be told directly by one’s Gods and/or spirits). I even actually inherited one from my late mom. It’s funny, when I’m divining for someone, and that person is a spirit worker who asks about whether or not he or she has a taboo, unless that person is starting to experience the aforementioned dis/comfort, I’ll caution them NOT to ask. (Better to ask forgiveness than permission…once it comes up on the mat, one is obligated). Taboos can change over the course of one’s life and Work. For many years, I had a specific taboo, but then about fifteen years ago, after a major initiatory cycle, that completely changed. I freaked, but a ton of divination and also prayer and discernment confirmed that the original was no longer needed. 

 I want to emphasize that there’s no virtue in having a religious taboo. There’s no virtue in being free of taboo. It’s just a thing that sometimes happens in our formation as spirit workers that, in some way, helps us. My colleague Tove just said that “sometimes, it illuminates a path that we’re on as spirit worker with more clarity than we otherwise would have had.” I have found that to absolutely be true. She also added, “they [taboos] can also be an expression of the voice of our Deities too, especially our primary Deity.”  

I can’t think of anything else to say on the matter. If y’all have questions, feel free to drop them in the comments. 

For the Record

For the integrity of our traditions, I now feel the need to make this announcement. 


Sarenth Odinsson has never received lineage initiation into our Starry Bull tradition or our House comitatus tradition. Of the four initiations this latter might entail, he was never deemed ready for any of them. He received one cult specific initiation from me: the first of three fire initiations, which he has received and carried well. That is all. 


Nor was he ever initiated into the Starry Bull tradition by Sannion. Sannion noted to me that Sarenth was present at a group initiation held during the original Many Gods West Conference – because he had freaked out during their previous Dionysian ritual, could not be left alone, and several members had to tend to him. Afterwards, he hung out and wouldn’t leave, even though it was made clear to him that private initiatory rites were about to begin. Because he was my apprentice at the time, Sannion chose not to kick him out. I was not present. 


When those initiations were performed, Sarenth underwent a basic and very modified rite of empowerment. Because it lacked certain elements and oaths it was not an initiation. Furthermore, at that point, he had not completed the pre-req. for the initiations. He was also given multiple chances to complete this pre-req class in working with the Bacchic toys, which he never managed to complete while working with us. 


It is an evil and polluted thing to claim initiations which one has not received. Let this stand for the public record. 

Every Elder is a World

Our elders are the backbone of our traditions. Without elders, there is no tradition and certainly no clean, sustainable transmission of our traditions. There’s a trend now, largely from the Pagan left (no surprise there) to dismiss, erase, eradicate the contributions of our traditions’ elders, all the while reaping the benefits of the learning, traditions, and Mysteries those elders carry. People who spent and spend their lives pouring themselves out for their Gods are being excoriated and slowly pushed out of their traditions by those with little learning, less sense, and no humility at all. It’s really rather disgusting. It’s not surprising – I’ve seen the attitude before—but it is disgusting. 

It also betrays a deeply flawed understanding of what tradition and lineage are and why they’re important. It speaks to modern discomfort with hierarchy and authority. It speaks to the quality of person modern Paganisms way too often draw, but it also speaks to a dearth of competent elders in some cases. An elder, however, can be “troublesome” without being wrong. A good elder knows better than to allow him or herself to move with the wind. Rather an elder stands strong and committed to service to the Holy Powers and Their traditions. 

Should we have elders, prophets, diviners, etc.? Well that’s really up to the Gods isn’t it? And the Gods have, from time immemorial resounded with a clear and present YES. (This is particularly true in the case of prophets – the community has zero part to play in making a prophet. That is something the Gods alone do). 

I am grateful to the elders in my world, living and dead. I am grateful for the doors they’ve opened, for their struggles, their hard work, their sacrifices. 

Stop This Ride, I Want to Get Off!!!

One of the many things that tridentantifa – btw, thanks, guys, for all the traffic to my site. It really helps get my work out there — complains about in my work is my support of dowries and marriage contracts. Since I’ve already written about the importance of a dowry and/or a trousseau elsewhere (1), this article is going to tackle, very much in brief, marriage contracts. It came up today in a conversation within my household after we saw an interview in which the subject of a pre-nup arose.

There is so little available beyond 101 material that discusses how to build a functioning, sustainable community (2). The key building block of a community is the household, which ideally in a traditional community begins with the married couple (3). A marriage contract is a legally binding document, signed by all parties prior to the actual marriage, that protects the interest of each party in the event of death or divorce. It goes beyond the boundaries of a pre-nup, which usually only deals with distribution of assets between spouses in the event of a break-up, and versions of the marriage contract date back at least to the early medieval (if not farther back, because really, these things varied considerably country to country, culture to culture, class to class). One thing that it emphasizes is that marriage is not just about the individuals, but is a matter of, at its best, uniting households and families. It ensures that both parties and their assets are protected, but also extends that protection to any children too. 

Now, when I got married, my husband insisted adamantly on having a pre-nup – not for his benefit, but for my own. He never wanted it to be said, as a certain nithling in the community has hinted, that he married me solely for his own material gain (4). Our marriage contract almost made his lawyer cry, because Sannion was insistent that in the event we divorce, he leave with only the goods with which he had entered our marriage and nothing more. Despite the existential pain this caused his attorney, he got his way but had we intended to have children, it would have been far more complicated. A good marriage contract carefully lays out in legally binding terms the following:

* The property, wealth, and assets with which each partner enters the marriage

* who gets what in the event of a divorce

* each partner’s will and testament (I suggest updating these every five years)

* each partner’s health care proxy and instructions in the event this is needed (do you want a DNR, do you want all life saving measures, etc.)

* who gets custody of any future children in the event of the parents’ death, and how do you want those children raised (i.e. polytheist)

* in the event of death, how are one’s assets to be divided vis-à-vis the children?

* what financial arrangements are you both making for any children’s future education, etc.?

* wergild in the event of adultery (and the right to pursue but not the obligation to do so).

Now, looking at this, you’ll see it combines a marriage contract with end of life issues, and some of the latter will be necessarily updated in an ongoing fashion. I think that the contract should partly be worked out by the couple themselves – when they are in love and want the best for each other, not later when there may be disagreements – but each family or representatives thereof should have a strong hand in working out the boundaries too (because when we are in love we are idiots and hopefully elders from one’s family will have one’s own interests at heart more than a love struck fool), and then finally it should be evaluated and witnessed by an objective party – and in the type of community we want to see, that would be a priest, elder, diviner, or some other specialist. I can’t help thinking of ancient Rome where wills and other contracts were maintained in the temple of Vesta. 

As an aside, I also think a lot can be said about a person and perhaps about the marriage’s future chance of success by the care one takes in the contract. If one partner is arguing vociferously over taking care of the other partner (or future children) in event of a break up, well, maybe think twice. Also, it can highlight potential points of fracture and discord, giving the couple a chance to discuss these things and start working them out (raising future children, for instance, or how one manages one’s finances. Priorities and values become significantly highlighted during the process of writing a contract like this). Of course, I also think clear provisions should be laid out in the event of a violation of one’s marital vows (adultery) too. Better to do it all before animosity threatens and colors one’s sense of right and wrong, then at the height of justified fury (5).

The important thing to take away here is that the purpose of a marriage contract is fair protection and care of each party, and any children. Each contract is customized to the parties involved. There is no single all-encompassing format. It’s flexible, and each household is able to choose what matters to them. In the event of adultery or other violations of one’s marriage vows, having pre-set penalties may help limit violence and unchecked vindictiveness. One could even include the option to leave in the contract in the event of XYZ. This also ensures that one places a priority on maintaining one’s tradition and clean transmission of that to one’s children. 

Please feel free to post questions or comments below. 

Notes: 

  1. Namely, having a trousseau, if not a dowry, helps prepare the young person for eventually setting up a functional household. See my article here
  2. My husband pointed out that one notable exception to this is Amber K’s book “Covencraft.” This book is really a must read for anyone who is running a religious group, even if we do disagree with her theology.
  3. Personally, I think the healthiest households are multi-generational and extended, but each healthy marriage is a further link in the chain of properly transmitted religious tradition and cultural norms. 
  4. Yes, dear, I know who you are, and I’m aware of the foul, untruthful shit that you spew. Having seen your dysfunctional relationships, and the utterly disgusting way you treat your partners, despite touting yourself as some sort of super feminist, I don’t think you have any room to talk. Kindly eat a dick. 
  5. This is, by the way, the ONLY legal document that I think should come into play with a marriage – if one has more than one spouse, work it into the contract (I don’t think polyamory is ideal, but like anything else, it can be done well or poorly, and while there is a standard norm, there are always functional exceptions to that norm). Frankly, I don’t think the government has any right at all to determine how consenting adults structure their households, so long as everyone is consenting and of legal age. Pedophiles should be burned alive. A marriage contract and later a marriage license that, in a perfect community, would be notarized at the appropriate temple are all that should be required. 

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First Principles and Food for Thought

I recently discovered the following videos on youtube. I’ve only watched these two but I think they are worth watching, and if you do, we can then have a conversation about them here, what we agree on and what we disagree on. I think on first listening, even when the language might make me a tad uncomfortable (I am an academic after all), that I agree with most of what this man suggests, despite the fact he is coming from a Christian perspective.

Here is the first video. In this, I agree with what he says but dislike his attribution to those things of the word ‘cozy.’ The word, to me, is low brow and emotional. I would instead try lineaged, cultured, connected (though he does use the term ‘quality’ at one point). He’s speaking about tradition, civilization, heritage for all people and the way that certain things like art and culture ennoble us and elevate our souls.

(The above video is part of a three part series that you can find on his youtube site). Now, below is the second video. I would offer a caveat that when he mentions ‘ancestor worship,’ given the context, I do not believe he is talking about actual ancestor worship and veneration, but rather about idolizing one’s ancestors to the point of excusing and justifying their every bad action. The man has definitely read his Aristotle too. Some of this is triggering, even to me, but what triggers me is the language, not necessarily the ideas that he is expressing. Even where I disagree or find his approach too facile, I think he is raising questions that we need to consider. I really like his focus on dignity of all persons and peoples, embedded in an awareness that we are one link in a chain stretching back into our ancestral prehistory and forward farther than we can ever see, and that we have the moral and social responsibilities that come with that.

I very much think that the problems in our society that we are seeing will not go away on the basis of any political or riotous action. The only curative as I see it is restoring and nurturing the ancient contracts: honoring our ancestors, respecting the land, and rooting ourselves deeply and purely in our polytheisms and sacred traditions, in our relationship with our Gods, and all the ways that demands we approach the world and each other. I also think we need to be cultivating the dignity of every person and acknowledging their importance and connection to the multiple heritages that make up our world as a fundamental aspect of building a morally just civilization. We should build each other up and assist each other in restoring and redeveloping these sacred bonds, and the only time we should bend the knee is to our Holy Powers.