Patreon Topic 16: Balancing Cosmologies

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From Amanda Artimesia Forrester comes this question:

“I don’t know if you’ve covered this before, since I’ve just signed up, but how about balancing Heathen cosmology with other Pagan systems? I come from mostly a Hellenic background, with some Egyptian, before Odin snatched me up 4 or 5 years ago.”

If I have covered it, it has been awhile. So, how do I balance cosmologies?

To a certain degree I don’t.

Even if we agree between our various cosmologies that all things are interconnected and that magic comes to us in a variety of fashions, how we understand and interact with the cosmos at large matters. Cultural lenses of understanding drastically affect how we understand and interact with Gods, Ancestors, and spirits. It also affects how we see our places in things, how we access magic, and what ways are acceptable to make use of magic. In some ways, there is no good way to ‘balance’ this, only work with and live with these worldview side-by-side as best we can.

Polytheisms have a lot of agreement between the various cultural backgrounds. We all agree the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits are real. We all agree that Gods, Ancestors, and spirits are, generally, worthy of worship. We all agree that there are underlying spiritual forces beneath our material reality that are acted on, comingled with, and affecting one another.

Where a lot of polytheisms have differences on is the Who and how we worship and otherwise interact with the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits. Polytheist religions agree on a lot of the broad basics between one another. Where there is a great deal of difference between polytheist religions is the details. The Soul Matrix in Heathenry v Kemeticism is a great example. Who the magic tends to come through or Who tends to be the initiator into certain spiritual practices, Óðinn and/or Freyja v Heka and/or Isis, would be another.

Balancing between Heathen and Kemetic religions is not something I worry overmuch about. While my primary polytheist worldview is that of a Heathen, when it comes time to do Kemetic things I adopt a Kemetic worldview. I had to make a similar adjustment when Óðinn grabbed me up from Anpu. While some of the cores of my practice changed, eg being very focused on the Dead and caring for the wandering Dead in my work with Anpu, to doing a ton of work with Runatýr and the Runevaettir, my usual practices of cleansing, grounding, centering, shielding, and the creation of wards did not. How my usual practices are done and the specific prayers I made did change.

Part of the challenge in worshiping Gods from multiple cultures is how to respectfully navigate each relationship. I tend to give similar offerings to each of my Gods, Ancestors, and spirits so long as it will not offend one group or another. Where there could be offense or a certain kind of offering would not be good, I make another. For instance, there are some Warrior and Military Dead that I make offerings to that do not want alcohol, so I make separate offerings, usually of water or coffee, for Them. Likewise, there are those Warrior and Military Dead that do want alcohol, so I offer Them that. As the Warrior and Military Dead are on a shrine with Anpu and Wepwawet the offerings I make and the way I pray is distinctly Kemetic in the opening prayers whereas most of the altars my family and I offer and pray at are generally done with Heathen prayers and formulations. As I pray to Warrior and Military Dead from several cultural backgrounds, I tend to address and thank Them in Their relevant languages.

Balancing relationships sometimes means that one worldview becomes your primary for a while, perhaps even the rest of your life. When I was an independent Kemetic priest of Anpu I thought for sure that it was the only worldview I would need or adopt. Then, as with so many folks I know, Óðinn came into my life and upended everything, and I found myself a Heathen in quick order. There may be point where you will find swerving drastically this way and that, offering mead to this God, beer to that, water to this set of Ancestors, and fresh fruit or vegetables to that spirit. What matters is your approach is respectful to the Gods, Ancestors, spirits, and the cultural milieu you are engaged in. For a lot of our offerings this is as simple as making offerings of fresh, cold, clean water in a good vessel of glass or ceramic and making prayers appropriate to the Gods, Ancestors, and/or spirits.

As each person has to balance their own relationships, I cannot give broad advice beyond that. What your Gods, Ancestors, and spirits may ask of you may not be that detailed. It is something that if you have questions on, divination and prayer are my go-to. Explore, pray, talk, divine, and experience how best you can strike balance with your Gods, Ancestors, and spirits.

Patreon Topic 4: Commercialization, Commodification, and Gentrification of Magic and Spirituality

If you want to submit a topic for me to explore on my blog, sign up at the Uruz level or above on my Patreon.

From my first Ansuz level Patron comes this topic:

“You might’ve written on this before, but I’d like to hear your thoughts on the commercialization, commodification, and especially on the gentrification of spirituality. Magic is the tool of the oppressed, what happens when that tool is turned into yet another weapon used against the poor, as I see all around me now?”

I would say that magic is not only the tool of the oppressed. It is accessible to anyone of any class. Look at ceremonial magic vs kitchen witchery, for instance. How hard is it to pick up and make the traditional materials for those workings? Brass, copper, silver, gold? Those cost a lot of money, resources, and/or training. Meanwhile kitchen witchery may need time, and training, but if the point is to do kitchen witchcraft (in my understanding) with items out of your pantry those are going to be accessible at whatever your income level is right then.

This means that certain kinds of magic, (or at least in their traditional forms) are, by dint of cost of time, materials, training, accessibility, etc, cut off from folks beneath a certain income level. For what it is worth I did ceremonial magic when I was unemployed in college. I used a lot of paper substitutes, printouts, sooo much salt, cheap incense, and the like, becauses there is no way in hell I could afford things like a magic ring or magic tools made out of copper, silver, or gold.

On the commercialization of magic: If the definition we are working with is, as the OED puts it “The process of managing or running something principally for financial gain” then I think that there can be quite a bit lost when we are talking about only working with magic to that end. That loss can be healthy connection between communities. That loss can be between a person and the Gods, Ancestors, or vaettir. That loss can be a healthy connection with money and/or the moneyvaettir itself. If the lust of result of financial gain or the desire itself for financial gain overcomes the reason for laying down a piece of magic, depending on the magic being deployed, it can be hugely detrimental to any working one does.

There is nothing inherently wrong with working or using magic to financially or otherwise benefit your community or yourself. I have a far healthier relationship with money and the moneyvaettir, and carry a good relationship with Andvari thanks in no small part to my Elder. I had no idea when Galina introduced me to Andvari what a powerful, dynamic impact it would have on the course of my life to come into better relationship with the Dvergar, let alone the moneyvaettir and through all of this, a better future for my family. I have made plenty of magical and spiritual items for money, among them bindrune mandalas burnt into leather, woodburnt Runes, and woodburnt bindrunes. I have done plenty of money workings for my family, Kindred, tribemates, and I. My family and I keep a healthy devotional relationship with Andvari and the moneyvaettir that extends into our daily night prayers and offerings that we make.

Commercialization is a problem with magic from a few different perspectives. From my perspective as an animist and polytheist when things are seen from a primarily commercial point of view it is far easier to depersonalize those we share the Worlds with. Rather than see a Being like a tree or its branches as part of a Being, commercialization encourages us to relate to Beings and things only in terms of “this branch can make me x amount as a wand, y amount as a bunch of Runes, z amount as Rune charms”. When money is the goal of holding a workshop on magic rather than teaching the magic then the Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir may be deeply disrespected in the process. This disrespect, not addressed and continuing to ripple out into the communities touched by it and engaging in it, can sour relationships between them and the Holy Powers.

From my perspective as a (mostly) former ceremonial magician the commercialization can harm magical operations themselves. Just having the lust of result of “I need money, this needs to work” can be interrupting to good flow of magic because rather than focus on the work at hand your focus is on the need you feel to get more money. Commercialization can also harm our relationships with spirits we might work with otherwise in a ceremonial magic setting.

If, for instance, you have partnered with/summoned/compelled a spirit of Jupiter to the end of enriching yourself but do not exercise good judgment, either in the choice of the spirit you contact or the details of how the money comes to you, you can land yourself fairly deep in debt to the spirit(s). This can go to the point where you are having to do some serious work to pay back what you owe to a spirit or spirits before you can get anything done for yourself. This takes away from your magic working for you and instead, you give both your sovereignty and your ability to do work over to someone else until you pay back your debt.

Commodification and commercialization often go hand-in-hand. Commodification is “The action or process of treating something as a mere commodity.”. A commodity is “A raw material or primary agricultural product that can be bought and sold, such as copper or coffee” or more simply “A useful or valuable thing.” Commercialization then further objectifies the thing at hand by treating that useful or valuable thing as a means of “managing or running something principally for financial gain”.

Commercialization/commodification can also hit the wider community by cutting entire sections of it out, either by a company or group of people producing cheap things like charms, Runes, and the like without any attachment to the actual processes to make them empowered/useful. Commercialization of magical items, for instance, can use processes to make those items that at least do nothing to help our relationship, and at worst produce ongoing harm to our relationships maintained with/through those items. A given company or group of people only wanting to make money can mass produce Rune sets and bindrunes without thought to the materials, and without offerings to the materials on which the Runes and bindrunes are made. They may make things more cheap and so, easier to access monetarily. They may also make connecting with a given God, Goddess, Ancestors, or vaettr harder by providing a barrier by not having set up the item to be receptive, or worse, if its construction is thoughtless to the relationship, to be an impediment to the relationship

For a contrasting example: if I make a Rune set from a branch my Runes come from pieces of deadfall, generally from trees where I am living and/or from trees I have good relationships with, that I have let season. I make offerings to the tree the branch comes from, and make offerings to the Runevaettir, both before the carving/burning of the Runes into the wood, and as part of my ongoing relationship with Them. I have a living relationship with Them, and the point of offering a Rune set to someone for sale is to establish a good relationship between that person and the Runes.

As I wrote before, there is nothing inherently wrong with earning money for doing magic or making magical and/or spiritual items. I have spilled a good deal of my own blood, dedicated an immense amount of time and work in my relationship with the Runes. This deserves reciprocity on its own. By being paid or exchanging gift for a gift, requiring Gebo for my sacrifices, I also ask for exchange as an honoring of my Elder in Gebo before me, and in honor to Odin as Gebo for His. This is part of continuing right relationship with Runatýr and the Runevaettir, my Elder, and my own relationships.

I understand and know magic as an animist and polytheist as being interwoven in relationship with Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, including our human communities. When magic and the ways we work with magic are themselves commodified and commercialized what this means is the very ways by which we may establish relationships, use power, and cause spiritual effects through those relationships and use of power, are used as sources of income. Often those income streams go out of our communities and into someone else’s pocket.

Commodifying and commercializing spiritual practices, magic, the creation of magical and spiritual items takes from the communities they come from without giving back to them or their Holy Powers. It is a lack of Gebo, of reciprocity. I have no issues at all with buying prepared magical or spiritual items. I have bought prepared Florida Water as a backup cleanser and found it very effective. Likewise, I have bought plenty of sacred dried herbs I have not grown myself. I feel very strongly that I need to mark a big clear line between engaging in trade and transactions that are respectful and based in reciprocity as opposed to commodification and commercialization. Trade and transactions can be done in a way that respects all parties involved whereas commodification and commercialization depersonalize and disrespect the culture(s), the Being(s) that is part of or is the product being sold, and disrupts right relationship.

Diviners, magic workers, spirit workers, and the like should be compensated for their work. That is precisely what I am asking of everyone who contributes through my Patreon and who asks for services through the Shamanic Services section of this blog.

There is a stark contrast between a Rune set made by a person who holds good relationship with Them and a Rune set put together by a person without a relationship with the Runes only because it will sell well. There is a stark contrast between someone who requires a set amount to read the Runes as opposed to someone who is looking only to make money off of people looking for answers. There is a stark contrast between the rootworker or other spiritual specialist charging for a service and someone who is just taking clients for a ride.

Look at the dynamics of the relationships here: The commodification and commercialization of a spiritual practice, item, etc requires none. Commodification and commercialization of spiritual paths, items, work, and so on is nothing less than the appropriation of these things to make someone money. Gebo does not exist here between a commodifier/commercializer and the spiritual paths, traditions, and so on they take from to make money. It is even more heinous when a person within a community goes the way of commercialization and commodification. They are participating, willingly, in the strip-mining of their own religious community/ties and disrespecting their Holy Powers only to make money.

Gentrification goes hand-in-hand with commercialization and commodification. It is “The process of renovating and improving housing or a district so that it conforms to middle-class taste.” In America the default ‘middle-class taste’ is generally what is comfortable for WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants). If the point is to sell a thing to make the most amount of money you appeal to those with the most money.

There is an additional wrinkle, at least for US citizens: In America the idea of the middle class and being part of it is so tied into ‘normality’ and ‘goodness’ that it is claimed by folks beneath the poverty line and so far above it that the very idea of a middle class is less an economic idea and more of a mutable ‘everyman’ that has served to flatten rather than serve as a useful highlight of economic/political class differences. So, appealing to ‘middle class’ in America through commercialization, commodification, and gentrification of religions, spiritual practices, initiations, spiritual and magical items, and so on, requires almost all the rough edges be scraped smooth and most of the teeth removed. Oh, there needs to be enough roughness for it to be edgy or off-center just enough so it is marketable, but not so much so that the person engaging in the religion, the spiritual practice, working with the item, etc is uncomfortable or challenged.

A gentrified spirituality is a wolf on display whose teeth have been ripped out. Robbed of its ability to feed itself, robbed of its ability to defend itself, robbed of being fed anything other than what mush it is given, producing only money or prestige for its displayer and shit otherwise. It exists to make the observer feel good about the wolf being on display, but the wolf makes no material impact in the world as it should. It is there at the whim of the displayer, and put away when it is embarassing or too much for the displayer or their onlookers.

This is not to say that a given religion, spiritual practice, or act of magic must absolutely be red in tooth and claw in all its aspects. Some of the most remarked upon forms that magic took in Heathen lore was with spinning, working with fabric, blacksmithing, things our modern society often look at as only crafts but that the home cultures understood to be sources of and ways to work with power. Some pretty famous pieces of magic involve food and drink. The seemingly innocuous or ordinary can hold great power.

When you understand things from a polytheist and animist perspective, from the Heathen and Northern Tradition Pagan perspective, the potential for magic is in everywhere and everything. That’s a pretty powerful antidote to the consumerist mindset that is encouraged by commercialization, commodification, and gentrification. When the whole world is alive with Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, and we understand that we truly own very little of the Worlds we walk in, it is also a humbling experience. Commercialization, commodification, and gentrification require people to absolutely ignore the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir in order for a thing to be done purely for profit. It requires a sundering of relationship, a one-sided using of a religion, religious community, spiritual techniques and/or tools in order for the profit motive to be the first priority. It is an inversion of priorities for a polytheist and animist: the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and the relationships in which we are all interwoven.

Theological Concepts, Language, and Means of Relation in Polytheism

This is not the only place I have seen this view, but it does a good job of compartmentalizing a lot of the more extended posts in this vein that I have seen on Facebook, blogs, and essays.  I am not quoting this person to pick on them, but the quote below highlights a lot of the trends I am seeing from the folks who are in the similar mindsets.

“Karina B. Heart
Theological concepts consistently fail to define, contain or express my beliefs or my embodied ecstatic expression of them. I reject orthodoxy. I reject the idea that people need priests to mediate the divine/spiritual for them as this effectively denies the spiritual sovereignty of the individual–placing them at the mercy of the priestly caste. We’ve had about enough of that, haven’t we?
Let’s break the binaries. Let’s deconstruct the habituated, limiting, egoic mindset that upholds paradigms of subject-ruler, petitioner-priest, human-divine, servant-master. Just because it’s “how it’s always been done” (in Western culture) does not mean it’s how it always will be done.
The Masters tools will never dismantle the master’s house.“

It is a mistake to name the priest the master when, especially for the priests, the masters are the Gods Themselves. Theological concepts exist as definitions, containers, and means of expressing meaning and understanding, and are not always equal to the task. Not every cup holds the same volume of water well, and not every cup is equal to the task of holding good, hot coffee.  It is little wonder theological language has to change, to go into poetry. We do not dispense with cups because they cannot all hold coffee, and so too do I view the language we use, theology included.

Having priests does not deny anyone spiritual sovereignty. Priests cannot take your sovereignty.  If they have sovereignty over you, you have given it to them.  Having priests as mediators is a requirement from some Gods. Some people are called to doing priest work for their Gods and others are not. If it comes from the Gods, the master, then by what right does anyone have to dismantle what They have put into place?

Do you understand the function of a priest?  Not all of them are mediators.  You’re probably thinking of Catholic, Anglican, and other Christian priests.  Yet, even this is not a very well-developed understanding of their role.  Do they operate as gateways to the Holy Spirit contained within the Host (in terms of Catholicism)?  Yes, because the Catholic Church has standards for how a parishioner is to believe and act in order to be an accepted member of the Catholic Church.

Priests act as gateways, as safeguards, for the Mysteries of their religion, and for the good functioning of their religious communities.  Many priests are called to only this, while others are called to become clergy (which may, and in my view, generally is, a different set of skills entire), and others are called to make offerings on behalf of their community to the Gods, and little else.  None of these takes away the ability of an individual to pray to their God(s), nor to offer, nor to do something for their Gods.  None of these takes away the ability of an individual to be called to something utterly outside the wheelhouses of the priests of a religion.

Is it that you don’t understand what a God is?  A God is part of the cosmological order in some fashion, and is in it in such a way as to be integral to it, whether we’re talking about a God of the harvest for a small community, a Goddess who IS the whole world, a God that IS or CONTAINS the Universe, to a God of the hinges on doors.  The Worlds are full of Gods.

Some of these Gods have no priests, and in these cases, the worries over priests are completely unfounded.  A lot of the priests that are out there will not, and may never be for you given these attitudes, because not only would you never accept them as a religious leader, you would actively denigrate the role they have within the community, and so, would likely not belong to it in the first place.  If you did you would be in active, continuous conflict with that religion and the leaders of it, which also would make little sense for you to take part in.

Orthodoxy may not be of use to you, but it is required to be part of many polytheist religions.  If this is unacceptable to you, fine, but don’t come gate-crashing into polytheists communities where it is, or into polytheism in general, and demand we should all accept this and work towards this end.

If you do not want a religion with priests then do not join a religion with priests.  Likewise, do not  come into others’ spaces and stomp and stamp and scream about oppression when these are people doing the work of their Gods and communities.

You want to break binaries?  Fine, but there are some binaries that I don’t think should be broken, and will stand against it in every case.  For instance, there is hierarchy in polytheism because we humans didn’t make this world.  The World is a God, a Goddess, and many Gods, and a God is the World, and the World is full of Gods.  The Goddess of a Well is a Goddess of that well. I am not that God, and neither are you.  It’s a simple hierarchy, one which I did not choose, but is there nonetheless.  A simple binary that goes with it is God and not-God.  This is not a binary I think should be broken (nor do I truly believe it can) because it would render the relationship of differentiated individuals that exist between Gods and mortals nonsensical.

If you want to deconstruct the habituated, limiting, egoic mindsets that uphold paradigms of subject-ruler?  I think you would be better served to simply not serve the Gods for whom these paradigms are ones They Themselves have and still uphold.  You don’t want a petitioner-priest relationship with others in your religious community?  Don’t join ones that have them.

Not every mindset that upholds the paradigm of subject-ruler does so through ego.  Some of us have come into these mindsets because we were called to them by our Gods just as others were called to reject them by their Gods.  Ascribing ego in the negative to those of us who hold these mindsets is insulting, rude, and also denies that we may come to these conclusions based on reason, thought, personal exploration, revelation, or experience of having gone other routes.

If you want to be part of a religious community where there isn’t a divide between human and divine?  Well…I think you would be hard-pressed then, most religions have the central belief in and worship of a God or group of Gods.  The exceptions to these rules would be religions which are non-theist.  It certainly isn’t polytheism.

It is assumed the Master’s house should be dismantled, and that the Master is human. Rather, I see in this narrative the Master are the Gods. I think it is the human house that needs the work.  A lot of it.  I wish folks would get on with it, regardless of how they do so, and leave the house of the Gods alone.