Allmother, Holy Frigga, You hear the cries of a million million children
The vile threads that weave
The million million choices that could have undone the tragic tapestry
May the new threads woven
By these survivors and their families
Be clean and comforting
May the children know peace
O Tyr, Judge and Lawspeaker
To those who betray their oaths
To those who have done wrong in silence or support
To those who harm the young
Help those harmed to find their voice
Help those harmed to be heard
Help those harmed to have their justice
Angrboða, Ferocious One
Help us to protect our people
Help us to remove the abusers
Help us to heal those harmed
Help us to speak harsh truth
That our people be protected
That our people be safe
That our communities be whole
Gerda, whose arms encircle
Help us to protect our young
Speak for those without voice
Strike for those without force
Walk for those without way
Gerda, please, help us
Place your thorns on abusers’ paths
Bloody their feet, and show them for who they are
May they never know peace.
Hail to You.
Niðogg, Eater of Poison
Niðogg, Chewer of Roots
Help teach us to chew the bitter roots
To drive the poison from us
To make the hard choice not to turn
To make our people and communities whole
Help us to cast aside the venom
That would poison us all
You will be heard.
Originally posted on The House of Vines:
This really fucking offends my innate sense of justice – but it also troubles me as a devotee of the goddess Melinoë who was conceived when Zeus disguised himself as Haides and violently raped his daughter Persephone, mangling her flesh in the process. The wound grew into rage and that rage became personified as Melinoë who was transformed from a wrathful Fury into a gentle goddess when Dionysos Eubouleos was willing to sit and listen to her…
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ConVocation and Michigan Paganfest are two events I have attended yearly for the 4 or so years. I have been part of my local Pagan communities in some way for ten years now. In that time I have been part of two Wiccan covens and an eclectic Pagan group I helped found. I am an active memberof a local Wiccan Church, Crossroads Tabernacle Church, as their Youth Minister and a member of House Sankofa and Urdabrunnr Kindred, both based in New York. I was adopted into The Thunderbird People, a local Native American tribe, in June of last year. I lead a Northern Tradition Study Group that has, over the course of time, slowly made its way from a Study Group to a Kindred and is looking at naming itself. I am involved in many local religious communities, as are many of my colleagues, friends, and tribe each in their own places, in these communities. I am tied to the Pagan and polytheist communities even if at times the way things go exasperate me. I do not let go easy. I have a lot of people who I have come to place deep respect, loyalty, and care for in these communities.
I think there are a lot of times where, even from the outside looking in, a lot of what people see is infighting. I want to say that my experiences at these events are quite the contrary. There is respect, warmth, and care, even for completely new people to these paths, or those visiting from other religions. There is acceptance that some people will be coming to deepen connection with their Gods, and others are here for the Masquerade Ball or concerts, and other fun things. I think that this is an important aspect of networking and sharing in space with one another. Some of the best times I have at conventions are after or between workshops, or, especially with this year in mind, breaking bread together.
Being willing to come together in these spaces is important. I do my best to show, not only say, that I value courtesy, hospitality, civil dialogue, and good company. In doing so I affirm that, while our religions and traditions may be different we can still come together and worship, learn from one another, work magic together, develop better dialogue, and enjoy one another’s company. Our differences do not disappear, but are respected in light of each others’ traditions, workshop formats, and rituals. This builds frith (good social order and peace) and hamingja (group luck and power)in one’s community, and between communities.
A large part of where the many Pagan, Wiccan, Heathen, Kemetic, and other associated communities meet and overlap is at conventions like ConVocation and Michigan Paganfest. As I attended this year that Sannion’s assertion that conventions are interfaith dialogues kept coming to mind. I found that very true, especially given my experiences this year.
To start with I had a lovely dinner with Kenn Day and Eli Sheva. I like to get to know people before I work with them, so I asked them out for dinner on Thursday before the Ancestor Worker panel Friday morning. Unfortunately Kenn could not get his schedule switched around so he could be present. Still, it was good to meet over food. Much like the efforts going on now to meet over tea or coffee, I find this way of working with people far superior than written correspondence. There is nothing like being able to look into the eyes, and see the posture of the person who is sharing your company. I had a delightful time talking with both of these fine people about our paths.
Sharing in food is a sacred thing, and was especially powerful since we were speaking across religious lines. Both of these people were warm and sincere in their answers, and answered me with a directness I found in my own family. Even their speaking together reminded me of my own family. That, I think, is the power of a tribe. We are family, in the end. When we speak across lines of tribe there are respects made, one to the other, such as respect for our ways of doing things, one another’s forms of prayer, traditions, and so on.
Does AMHA explain this differ from the Northern Tradition and Heathen life I live? In talking with Eli Sheva and attending her workshop Neo-Tribal Ethics, I would say we are actually quite similar. She found that AMHA’s virtues lined up with the Nine Noble Virtues so well during her own talks with Diana Paxson that she developed her handout of the 12 virtues from it. What I took away from our conversations and the workshop was that our differences are cultural and in the particulars of our religion. We share a great deal across the board, such as the notion that we are our deeds, that each member needs to be a productive member according to their abilities and circumstances, and so on. We define Ancestors differently, but we venerate Them. We worship different Gods and may relate to each different from one another, but all of us approach Them with piety and respect. We acknowledge the world as living, a Goddess Herself, and the beings upon it as having Being or souls of their own. There are so many similarities I could fill a book with it. While our differences are marked and important, there was beauty in how the similarities touched in the same ways and means by which we engaged in our lives. That, I think, was the most striking to me: these are not just religions, but lives within a worldview and relationship with the Worlds, Gods, Ancestors, and spirits, that we are living.
The one workshop I did this year at ConVocation was An Ancestor Worker Panel. We got to explore these similarities and cross-culture points together with a responsive audience. I had a great time sitting between the wonderful women who co-hosted the panel: Joy Wedmedyk and Eli Sheva. My nervousness at leading the panel when these two had about 20 years on me in their traditions evaporated quickly. We had honest, respectful dialogue between us that flowed well regardless of the questions before us. Thank you both for co-hosting this panel.
I have to thank the audience members, too. When we opened up to questions, both during our initial talks and later during the Q&A session, there were really good questions that opened up deeper dialogue. I have hit and miss auditory memory, and I am kicking myself for not having my computer or a voice recorder present. We had an engaged audience, one that was full of active listeners and participants. I felt lucky to have had each one present.
We started simple with questions like “What is an Ancestors?” and “What is an Ancestor Worker?” As with my experience at dinner, the conversation flowed well, and except for differences between our religions and culture, with myself in the Northern Tradition and Heathenry, Joy in Lucumi Orisha worship, and Eli Sheva in Am Ha Aretz, the three of us seemed to be coming from the same place. We came from a common understanding that the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits are real and have a living impact and relationship with us, and that each person, regardless of where they stand, can worship the Gods well. That the world is sacred, and many of our sacred places reside in natural settings, such as groves, near rivers and/or at lakes. Another commonality? It seems coffee is one of the damned-near universal offerings. I have yet to come across a tradition that reveres and makes offerings to the Ancestors that turns down coffee even if the person offering is not fond of it. I found the same with tobacco, whether smoked, free-leaved burned, or simply left at the picture, altar, shrine, grave, mound, or another holy place.
One of the key differences we went over in detail was that our understanding of what constitutes an Ancestor are quite different. In the Northern Tradition we include blood Ancestors, the Gods, the Elements, Mitochondrial Eve, the people who are part of our lineages, and our Elders. Northern Tradition folks may venerate or actively worship our Ancestors. We may use a wide array of ways to represent our Ancestors, from statuary to photographs, handmade items to rocks or crystals, depending on the Ancestors. In my own case I have a candle dedicated to Fire Itself, and a bowl I refill now and again with ice to represent Ice Itself.
According to Eli Sheva, AMHA’s Ancestors are restricted to blood Ancestors only, and they do not worship Them, but do venerate Them. Their Elders include not only Elders of AMHA, but those who inspire and are heavy influences upon them, such as artists, philosophers, and good friends. Those whose names are forgotten are said to go back to the Earth Mother, Rachmay. Both known and unknown Ancestors are represented by objects called Teraphim. Teraphim “are placed on altars or shrines as photos, sculptures, rocks, and other objects. Teraphim representing who have gone back to the Earth are sometimes presented as part human, part animal, part plant, or as having abstract mask-like faces.” AMHA’s Warrior Dead are also sometimes call Rephaim. All of these Ancestors and Elders are not worshiped, per se, but revered. There are certain festivals and celebrations, as well as to each participants private observances, for when this reverence takes place. The festivals and celebrations are done in a sacred place, such as in a grove, or at one’s home altar or shrine, with offerings of food and drink being offered to Them.
In Lucumi Ancestors are, as with AMHA, blood Ancestors. Elders in Lucumi include just those of one’s lineage of initiation into Lucumi. However, there is another group of Ancestors: the Egun. As Joy puts it: “The Egun are the ancestral dead back to the beginning of our existence. Those that we do not remember by name. All the knowledge of our lineage.” According to Joy, “the Ancestors are given an alter inside the home. A small table, a white tablecloth, a white candle and a glass of water is a basic set up. Pictures of deceased relatives are usually displayed on the wall. The Egun are usually kept outside. The shrine and place of offering for them consists of a staff. The staff is tapped on the ground when speaking with them. Speaking from the heart to Ancestors and Egun is always encouraged.
At each point of discussion we collectively kept coming back to reminding the audience that most of the activities of the traditions and religions we are part of, such as Ancestor veneration and worship, are not things carried on by a priest, shaman, or other spiritual specialist alone. These are to be done by every member individually and by the people that make up these religions and traditions as a whole. Every member, spiritual specialist or not, is an important member of our people that makes up the group. Every person can and should do the work of prayer, offerings, and other rituals to the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits as is appropriate to their traditions, relationships with the Holy Powers, and circumstances.
I felt that we could have gone on for another hour and a half, easily, talking about just the Ancestor work we had all engaged in. I was happy we got through all of our basic questions, and answered a good deal of the audience’s too. I feel there should be more dialogue like this in the various communities I am part of. Perhaps I should do another post here, or even put together a podcast where I ask these questions, first of Joy and Eli Sheva, and then of other people so we can explore each others’ traditions and religions. Perhaps, in a year or two, we could put another panel on at ConVocation and bring even more people in, and explore our religions and traditions together.
One of the major privileges of attending ConVocation is that you can attend workshops that go into the history and particulars of the religion that people live. I attended Eli Sheva’s Thursday class: Yahwe and the other Hebrew Gods on Thursday, and learned a bit about who El and Yahwe were, how ancient peoples understood these two Gods, and how Yahwists came to take over El’s iconography. It was a powerful exploration of these two Gods, and just from listening I think she could easily have taught far longer than that, and still had history to go through. I hope that there are more workshops like these offered. Knowing where we come from, how our understanding and relationships with the Gods developed, are all to the good for our communities.
I attended a good number of workshops. Each offered unique insights from their own religion and tradition. There are people whose workshops I found useful, while my own religious views do not agree with theirs. For instance, I found Kerr Cuhulain’s Full-Contact Magick workshop imminently useful in teaching me about direction of energy, posing and techniques for manipulating qi or, in my tradition, önd. I did not agree with his position on the Gods. I do not see that as a requirement for engagement, though. He, in my view, was not discussing religion per se, but spiritual techniques of working with energy every human has within them regardless of religion or lack thereof. The assumption these techniques descend from assumes energies and an understanding of the human self that is, in and of itself a spiritual one, but as taught in the workshop there was no theology attached to the techniques themselves.
This is important to note because I could not teach galdr (magical singing) with the Runes in the same way as he has taught magick. In my tradition galdr is a technique that, for instance when galdring Runes, works with Them as spirits. To try to teach Runic galdring without having an active relationship with the Runes is disrespectful to the Runes, and hazardous because Gebo is a prime element of any relationship in the Northern Tradition and Heathenry. In cases where I include galdr in a ritual or a workshop I have already made the offerings that ensure good Gebo; I cannot assume anyone in such a setting will go home and make the offerings on their own.
Because I am the teacher or leader of a ritual it is on me to extend that first step of Gebo on behalf of those I serve, whether they are a new student in a study group or an attendee at a ritual, rather than make the assumption they can or will fill the obligation to the Runevaettir. This is also why it is important for me, in turn, to ask for something upfront or know there is Gebo coming my way. I have an oath to Odin not to take on a reading without some kind of Gebo to me, even if it is not upfront, when I am doing a Rune reading or spiritual work. The flow of Gebo is as such that what flows to me flows to Them, so that when people hand me money, give me an offering, or somehow give reciprocity that in turn goes to Odin and the Runevaettir. When I have taken a shot or food for the Gebo of a reading I am often sharing that shot or that food with Runátýr (Odin) and the Runevaettir. If it is a shot I am usually sharing with both Odin and Loki, remembering what is given to one is given to the other.
Not everyone has these kinds of expectations or relationships, and it is important to not assume people operate the same way I do. So, I ask a lot of questions. Later in the evening I had the pleasure to talk with Mr. Cuhulain about his practice, warriorship, and things that have come from engaging in the world with that worldview. When he brought up learning Maori Haka I asked how he related to it and learned it. For my own piece of mind I needed to know well before I asked much about it how he learned it, from whom, and what their reaction was when asked to learn it. On his website, Mr. Cuhulain has pictures of the Maori who taught him the dance because to teach him that is what they asked in return. He teaches it with permission from them, and in respect to them. So, I was delighted when he offered to teach a Maori Warrior Haka as a workshop Friday evening. He values, as I value, good relationships built on reciprocity. We may not have the same view of the Gods, but the acknowledgment and expression of our relationships with one another, the people we serve, and the communities we are part of, are built on the idea.
When it comes down to it I view a lot of the conflict between our communities as Gebo (gift for a gift, aka reciprocity)not being served. When reciprocity in respect breaks down, people talk past each other, and begin to assume worse and worse characterizations of one another and their positions. When reciprocity in compassion breaks down, people assume the worst of each other, and forgiveness and resolution is hard to come by. When reciprocity breaks down in communication, whether it happens separately or in tandem with the previous two examples, it means that our words are twisted or poorly understood, and the decline of the ability to have any dialogue, let alone productive dialogue, deepens. We live in a time where we are awash in information, and yet, are being taught less and less how to effectively parse it. We live in a time where communication can occur on a massive scale, and yet, we are encouraged not to sit with a concept and digest it, but to chew quickly so we can consume more. If we are to have effective dialogue, community building, or any of the great things we hope to have individually as communities or between communities, we have to slow down and listen, ask questions, be willing to be wrong and admit to it, and to do better by each other. If we forever wait for the other person to somehow spontaneously develop respect no amount of talking will get us anywhere.
If we are to build frith (peace and good social order) and communication it must be done first with our own communities, and then with one another. I cannot approach you in hostility and expect to have effective dialogue and respect. I cannot assume you will not listen and try to talk to you. There must be the expectation of mutual respect, that good dialogue is able to be had, and the willingness to be patient with one another, as hard as that can be. I do not have to agree with what you say any more than you do me, but there needs to be a baseline respect there for one another, or there can be no foundation for effective dialogue. Reciprocity and its attendant respect must take root well before I sit down to dinner, make a pot of coffee, or teach a workshop. Without it we are watering a dead tree.
The reason I attend ConVocation and Michigan Paganfest is that the trees in these communities are healthy. There is room for improvement in these communities as there are in any other. Orchards need tending, so too communities. The roots are strong here. There is a sense of shared responsibility within these communities. What has been emphasized the last few years I have come to these events is that we are all coming together and need to watch out for one another. I am thankful to have heard the last few years, during these times, that the person’s permission and sovereignty must be respected as part of this. Our responsibility at these events for safety and well-being is both individual and communal, and that there is a flow to be respected. To take care with one another, and yet, accept responsibility in ourselves and with one another. We accept mistakes will be made and that problems will arise, but that we can meet the challenges in and between our communities. I view these conventions in the same light that I view many of the Tea Time meetings, the Polytheist Leadership Conference, and various other efforts to bring people together. They are necessary, providing us ways to understand ourselves and one another better. These spaces give us all opportunities to meet and see one another, to hear one another’s voices, and to speak with one another in a safe place. It is my hope this sacred work keeps up, and deepens as the years go on.
My thanks to Eli Sheva and Joy Wedmedyk for co-hosting the panel, and working with me on this post. My thanks to Robert Keefer for helping me with crafting this post and providing much-needed feedback!
Originally posted on PAGANARCH:
Shall I explain? How can I, really, except to impart fragments just as I view them–not shattered, but patch-work glimpses of glittering reflections strung along by fascinating threads.
First of all, did you know gods-worshippers are a fantastically radical lot? Not just strange or queer, but good gods do they seem to exist with a burning fire ready to torch the darkness. And funny, as I forgot this of myself, that what I want to tear down is a hedge between here and Other.
I met a particular person today, an occasional Pagan writer, a gods-worshipper, and a ferocious activist whose whole form and persona vibrated with what could only be called a sort…
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Clothed in feather and in furs
Walking worlds in wolf’s ways
Wings wheeling over weathered peaks
Slithering snake in secluded paths
Battling berserk in bear’s body
Fang and fury, frenzy and freedom
Wending the way of wilderness
Behind slitted eyes
Whispers a voice
Rocking her back and forth
The seat creaks
Upon the hill
Her voice lets out a croak
The Gods speak this night
In the deep cold we feel Your hands
Your icy breath brings the blessed Ice
Though we shiver now we will be thankful
when the orchards are full
when the crops grow
when the lakes rise
The ground crunches with our steps
The roads are pitted with holes
Yet I count us blessed
For You have brought us appreciation
of warmth and family and tribe
of the coming Spring
of generosity and care
Thank you, Frost-thurses
Thank you, Ancestor Ice
Thank you, Gods, Goddesses, and spirits of hoary Nifelheim
May you ever be hailed
May you be offered to well
May we never forget Your blessings
I was recently reading a piece on io9 “The Real Reason Why Techies Are the New Yuppies”, and it occurred to me as I was reading in the comments that there is a parallel here. Not being alive any earlier than the 1980s, and not officially part of Paganism/polytheism until 2004, I cannot speak on what Paganism or polytheism was like. I am wholly a product of the early 2000s in regards to my religious development as a polytheist. The parallel that struck me was actually in the comments section in reference to a person having computer use and literacy as a skillset. They were had a far easier time navigating things like the Obamacare website, versus a person who was not as computer literate. The person with the skillset took about 5 minutes to find the relevant information, whereas his housekeeper was sobbing after 3 hours of trying to get the damned thing to work. This, to me, brought something to light.
A lot of spiritual specialists are working with wholly different skillsets oriented towards different things than most people. We are often wired different for our jobs by the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits we serve. Many of our initiations serve in this capacity to alter our spiritual form, functions, etc. to the task at hand. For some this makes a certain skillset far easier, and for others, nothing changes aside from getting the go-ahead from the Holy Powers in question to do a thing or perform a service. Even if we are not altered by the Holy Powers for the task at hand, our skillsets develop in differing ways, and so, it may appear that we’re really awesome all around from the outside, when really we might be hyper-specializing in a few areas.
So for some of us, to use an example, entering trance or meditative states is a whole hell of a lot easier than someone else. This can (and often is) simply a matter of “I have had x number of years doing/working on this”. Other times it is a matter of “I am, for whatever reason, wired to have these experiences easier” and others “I was rewired to have these experiences easier”. There’s tons of reasons for this, but at the end of the day it makes little difference in terms of my worth as a person, religious, spiritual, or otherwise. Spiritual practice is, like a great many other arts and disciplines, something that has to be worked at to develop the capacity to do it, and do it well. The ability to use a computer well, likewise, does not make me better as a human being compared to a person who does not. It merely means that my skillsets are in areas that are immediately useful to the task at hand. I cannot do carpentry, plumbing, electrical work, or other forms of trade skills (though I would like to learn, even on an amateur level) but that does not make me less of a person. I am absolutely at a loss with cars; if it sounds weird, I trust someone who is better experienced with my car. So while I am a piss-poor mechanic I am not a piss-poor human. A mechanic expecting me to be on hir level in regards to car repair would be like me expecting a person wholly new to polytheism to be on my level in regards to shamanism or priest work. It’s not realistic, and not what I expect of others any more than my mechanic expects me to have his working knowledge of my car.
Much like my mechanic expects me to do baseline maintenance though, I think that it is wholly fine for spiritual specialists to have expectations of the people who come to us for help. Some of the first questions I ask anyone who comes to me are: “Do you have an altar/shrine to your Dead?” “What Gods, Goddesses, Ancestors, and/or spirits do you worship and/or have relationships with?” and “Do you do daily devotional work?” and “Do you do daily personal work like grounding, centering, cleansing, shielding, etc.?” For me, these questions are no different than my mechanic asking me “What is the make and model of the car?”, “When was the oil changed?”, “What have the sounds/experiences been in driving the car?”, and similar questions. He’s not being a jerk by asking me these baseline questions, he is being thorough. Because his skillset is in a different place than mine, he has to ask the basic questions before getting to the meat of what might be wrong with my car. I am being very general, but even so, some of these questions come up even when the problem is something specific, i.e. my door won’t go back up and the motor for the window makes a clicking sound.
The comment in the article also made me think of the privilege involved in developing these skillsets, and the privilege these skillsets can bring. To be able to develop some of these skillsets, you have to have certain things, among them a computer or at least disposable income for car/bus fare (i.e. library trips), books or materials. To be able to have access to good resources, and/or a good teacher so you can develop these skillsets is another privilege. To have good training or teachings passed on to you, to be able to afford the various things that make such training, education, and making it to rituals and events to have experiences made possible for oneself is privilege. Once you develop skillsets as a spiritual specialist there may be things that you are simply better at due to the training, the hard work, and/or experiences, as in getting into trance mentioned above. It does not make you inherently better, but it does mean that there are opportunities in terms of training, resources, and experiences that may be available to you that are not available to the average person.
I have had powerful religious experiences throughout my life, first as a Christian and then, as a Pagan. I find it harder to teach someone to connect to the Holy Powers who does not or cannot connect as readily because of this. I haven’t, in general, had to work as hard as others to experience the Presence of the Holy Powers. I do not understand what it is like to go through life with an absence of the Holy Powers being readily in one’s life in a recognizable way. This is a huge blind spot for me when I teach people. It is not like I sit down every time I meditate or sit and pray at a shrine and have a ‘kaboom!’ reaction (read: peak spiritual experience)…but I also look at my experiences and understand why folks might be skeptical of them, to say the least.
I recognize that my experiences are not average, nor that they should have to be. I also recognize that my skillset is different, not better, than others. There are a good deal of skillsets I would like to have, among them, gardening, and ecologically sound building skills, i.e. making cob, strawbale, and similar structures. I have a lot of focus in my life to upper-head type of things, like psychology and theology. Yet, when it comes to things like gardening vegetables, which to a gardener would probably be really simple, like the housekeeper in the comment I get overwhelmed by all the options and data. So, I ask questions of friends who have green thumbs. Do I want results like they get? Of course, but to expect at the start to have plants that grow as well as theirs is probably unrealistic without help. I don’t know much about growing vegetables. Dad has shown me how to do simple gardening, from tilling to planting to watering cycles. Before he gave his help my plants were withering and some died because I did not understand them well enough on my own. I am nothing like a master at this; I am lucky that the aloe plants we keep are so hardy. I have not managed to keep any other plants of mine alive inside the house.
This reminds me of a quote attributed to Albert Einstein that comes around my Facebook feed now and again: “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.” If I judged my gardening by Master Gardeners then I would continuously feel like a failure. Context for understanding where the quality of a skillset should be is pretty important.
Skillsets within religion are important. For some religions, understanding the text of the religion may or may not be important. Singing may be important to religious rites and services. There are too many individual instances to list here. Religion is more than a value system, or system of beliefs. It is lived. It is the way in which one conducts themselves in the world, understands their place, and relates to everything. With religious and spiritual engagement devotional work is a must. Religion requires certain skillsets to develop to be done well. While belief is not, to a great many polytheists, as important as worship and right relationship, the ground of these two things is in acknowledgment of the Holy Powers as real and worthy of worship. It is a given, not altogether different from a fish being surrounded by water.
So if there is a baseline set of skillsets for a polytheist, what are they?
There will, I imagine, be different emphases depending on the Gods and Goddesses one worships, Ancestors, spirits, one’s tradition(s), and individual group(s) within those traditions. Rather than write a list full of caveats and exceptions, here are some ideas of general skills to develop:
- Develop and maintain relationships. Have or be willing to develop a working relationship with your Holy Powers, whether this is the Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits. This does not need to be a do-all end-all kind of devotion with every minute given over to your Gods, it just needs to be consistent. Even 5-15 minutes of prayer, song, or something where you directly engage with the Holy Powers a day is good.
- Reciprocity. Have or be willing to develop or engage in a regular system of offerings, even if all you can afford is tap water. Take out the tap water after a full day on the altar, or, if you cannot because people in your home are hostile to your religion, respectfully flush the water or pour it out in a sink. Another option would be to put the offering in a bottle of water, collecting the offerings in the bottle each day, and taking it out to a river, lake, or a tree nearby.
- Ask questions. I know of no Holy Powers that expected me to know or understand everything all at once. I am still learning about my Gods, Ancestors, and spirits. If you have people you can contact, use them. If you are in luck and have a community that works with or worships the Holy Powers you are interested in learning about, so much the better.
- Research. If you have a license to drive a car, you sunk some time into understanding how the car starts, runs, and operates. The Holy Powers deserve just as much, if not more consideration. If nothing else, ask for a recommended reading list. Some texts that would be useful to deepening an understanding of the Holy Powers may be on free websites, like Sacred-Texts.com, the Gutenberg Project, or similar public offerings.
- Dedication. Do the work. Whatever it is, whether it is research offerings, prayers, meditation, gardening, cleaning, etc.
- Ask for help. If you are stuck, if you do not understand something, or if you need or want more help even after asking for help, ask for help. As with ‘ask questions’, I don’t want people to not understand what is expected of them by a tradition or to have to reinvent the wheel, or repeat mistakes I or others have made.
- Double or triple check. If something feels off, maybe it is. It is always better to be sure than to be wobbly on where you are planting your feet.
- Simple divination. This can be throwing stones, dice, coins, or something small and simple that costs little to nothing in terms of money. While not everyone may have a knack for divination, a really simple yes/no divination style can be very helpful in answering questions, especially when you are stuck.
- Decolonize your life. A lot of Western ideas are intertwined with Christianity, and many of the sources, including many pieces of lore, are heavily influenced if not corrupted by the scholars who wrote them down. Many scholars themselves have and still do go back and forth over how Christianity, i.e. in the Norse myths, influenced what was recointerrded, and what is genuine religion, holdovers, mixed tradition, and so on from the original peoples being written about. Clean engagement with the Holy Powers will require this, especially since many of our Gods do not fit well within modern Western paradigms of acceptability. Even speaking about the Gods as real Beings unto Themselves is met with derision in much of society, and untangling that from our minds, thoughts, and words is hard work. It requires us to be careful of the words we use, the ways in which we approach our Gods, and even the ways in which we approach the lore available to us. Treating Loki as the Norse Satan, for instance, is a holdover from Christianity. I am not saying you have to like Loki, or believe His actions/reactions are good, but putting Him where Satan was, especially if you are a convert from Christianity, belies the complex relationships the Gods have, and how important He is, given how intertwined He is with almost every myth we have. It also will interfere with how you understand the other Gods, as Loki is often a traveling companion to Thor, Odin, and other Gods.
Skillsets do not have to be developed in isolation either. You can develop skills while also doing devotional work, for instance. These are just a few ideas, but they are the main ones I can think of right now. It may be that you are or develop a craft, and making origami boats for Njord is devotional work for you. Researching your genealogy, and then including the Ancestors you find can be a powerful piece of devotional work. Gardening and tending your land, or a community garden can be a devotional activity involving your Gods, Ancestors, and spirits. Keeping your home would be a good offering not only to your Ancestors, but to Gods and spirits that are part of or have domain/dominion in the home, i.e. Frigga, Hestia, and houesvaettir, among a great many. While it will not, in my view, replace a daily offering of water or a weekly offering of food, finding ways to incorporate your Holy Powers in your life provides more ways of connection, dedication, and devotion.
To borrow a word from Rhyd Wildermuth, this process is re-enchanting the world around you, suffusing it with the understanding and active acknowledgment that the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits can be connected with anywhere, and the world itself, wherever you are, is holy and a potential place for the sacred. This is good work wherever one is in their life, whatever their relationship is to the Gods, Goddesses, Ancestors, spirits, or communities. Our skillsets will not look the same, nor should they. I would hope that as polytheists we could agree that the basics of devotional work, dedication, and right relationship with our Gods would be among the common ones. This does not require one be a spiritual specialist. The main requirement is that each of us is willing to do the work that each of us can do, each of us in our own time, space, and ability in accordance with our tradition(s) if any, and the will of our Gods, Goddesses, Ancestors, and spirits.
I have been a Pagan for 10 years, and in that time I have seen very few groups in which priests were not also the leaders of whatever group they were part of. This can be done, and done well. I am part of groups that are very well run and well taken care of by their priests.
Some time ago I went into the difference between what a shaman and a priest are. This is how I defined a priest then, and this is how I still view a priest:
“A priest is a worshiper of a God, Goddess, Ancestors, or spirit, and acts as an intercessor between humanity and the Gods. When I use the word humanity, this can mean as small-scale as another person or small group or as large-scale as a congregation or worldwide religion. A priest’s job is, in some way, shape, or form, to bring the message(s) of the Gods, the Gods Themselves, and/or teach and bring right relationship with the Gods to humanity. A priest’s other jobs may serve the community in a larger fashion, such as performing certain services as intercessory work, like public festivals, public sacrifices, offerings, and the like, or more personal works like blessings at homes, births, funerals, and weddings.”
Since this post I have felt the need to put more emphasis on the notion that a priest serves their Holy Powers (Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits) first and foremost. That the priest’s first duty, within polytheism as I understand it, practice, and experience it, is service to the Gods. This may have absolutely nothing to do with one’s human community/communities. Much of my work with Anpu, as I noted in the article “Question 10: Shaman vs. Priest”, has nothing to do with living people. Much of my service to Him is to help the Dead. In the last seven or so years I have not done a single public ritual with anyone in regards to Him, yet He still counts me as His priest and others have come to me asking for help with Him. I serve Him, and I serve Him in the ways He asks me, and on behalf of Him with other people where called.
Being a priest does not, by default, make me the leader, or even a leader outside of certain circumstances. It makes me a priest. So if I am making the point that priests are not necessarily leaders, then what are leaders?
The Oxford English Dictionary defines a leader as “the person who leads or commands a group, organization, or country”. A leader is someone who may be a trailblazer, just as they might be someone modeling good values, just as they might be the head of a group. The focus of a leader, at the end of the day, is on people first and foremost. They are about the people they lead. A volunteer coordinator is a leader just as a head of the local Kuwanis Club is a leader. Often a leadership position is in service to other people. Contrast this what I have written above in regards to being a priest, and there is a stark contrast: the leader is about the people, and the priest is about the Gods. Their actions are geared towards their focus.
If you are a priest you might be a leader, just by default in a situation like a ritual. You might be the only leader(s), as many groups are lead by priests. However, I think that the onus of leadership is something that ought to be more shared. It is a lot to ask of a person to keep a personal cultus with Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits, in addition to possibly holding rituals for a group, making offerings, and holding a job, and lead a group on top of all the other things required to make a group function well. The list of demands grows if your group is official with the government at all, or if you have a busy ritual schedule. That is a lot on one person, or even two people.
Some people are able to do all of this and keep their group running well. I think, though, that we would have more effective priests and groups in general if this was an option and not a necessity. Note: I am not saying every priest who is in this situation should give up their leadership roles. From where I stand that is a lot of weight on a person’s shoulders. If they choose to, this is where the priest, especially if they are in or have been put in a leadership role, needs to be willing to speak up, set boundaries, and especially to delegate responsibilities and trust people to fulfill/look after them. In turn, those they trust with the leadership and various responsibilities need to follow through on their obligations and promises.
I saw this at work very effectively as a Catholic. There are councils set up to help the priests do their work, i.e. pastoral councils, financial councils and the like, so that the priests can focus on doing their mission: serving their God and in turn, their congregation. There is a lot of groundwork that has to be laid to make this work well for polytheists, but if we want to have dedicated priests, temples, and the like, some amount of hierarchy, organization, and heavy lifting will need doing. A council format allows for concerned folks to get together and pull their weight together, vote on ideas, and make things happen with a core membership that then goes out into the community and gets things done. In the Catholic Church they work with the priest hand-in-hand to make sure that what is needed is taking care of so the priest does not have to worry about the lights getting turned off or what they are going to do about needed work on the church. This is an effective model that works. Granted, the Catholic Church itself kicks in much-needed money so the wheels are greased. Yet, I believe this council model can effectively work so that our communities can make the amenities, like temples, charities, communities, public ritual space, and so on, that I have heard so many wish for. A priest alone trying to do all of this, pull of this together, would have a very, very hard time.
Why is now is a good time to think about this, and separate priests from large amounts of leadership responsibilities? Because we are coming into a time where we may have the people to do so. There are second, third, fourth, and even fifth generation polytheists, Pagans, and those of like mind who are coming into the world. I would like to see effective foundations laid for them all. Part of this, I see, is defining who and what we are, as-is the need to build lasting groups, buildings, and so on for them to inherit. Not everyone is a priest, nor should the notion that ‘everyone is their own priest’ mean that priests, themselves, and all the skillsets required to be an effective one, get put by the wayside.
More on skillsets in the next post.
I met You in the depth of night
I knew You little then
Pictures in a book
You were a Goddess
remote to me
Someone worthy of honor
I had Anpu, and I thought that was enough
You came to me in ritual
Laid Your paw upon my chest
In that moment I felt
So very much
You made me want to dance with wild joy
So much of You is missed
Between the covers of a book
The scratchings upon scrolls
So much I would have missed
Were I never to look upon Your feline Face
Far more than ‘just’ a housecat; a Goddess
Far more than ‘just’ a joyous One; a Protector
Far more than words can say
Far more than pictures show
Yet You are those too
So many ways have I
been blessed to know You