Archive

Posts Tagged ‘story’

Developing Polytheist Myths

July 10, 2018 17 comments

I love audiobooks, particularly The Great Courses series. They get my gears turning, and sometimes provide inspiration and fodder for ideas I explore here. In listening to Great Mythologies of the World, Chapter 2, I ran across an excellent statement that got me thinking on the role of myths in modern polytheism:

We tend to think of myths as springing fully formed into specific cultures, and most of us think of the ancient Greek myths, as well, Greek. But the Greeks drew heavily from their predecessors and neighbors just as later cultures, especially the Romans, would draw from them. Because of this it is best to think of mythologies as living entities, always on the move, shapeshifting as they pass from culture to culture.

This last sentence is especially important in the context of modern polytheism. It is not enough that we have good translations of our sources for the religions we are reviving. We need new myths to carry us, and those who come after us, forward. We can build on what is there, and I firmly believe we should. The Greeks certainly did not wrap up writing myths after Homer, Hesiod, or Orpheus wrote. There is no reason for us to, either.

What I am proposing is both incredibly powerful and dangerous. Powerful, because we are making deep ties with our Gods, Ancestors, and spirits, and likely tying these myths right into where we live as every ancient polytheist culture and tribe did. It is also incredibly dangerous because it can lead people and communities straight into territory where power playing, delusions, lies, and aggrandizement can wrench myth-making from its holy roots.

I firmly believe that consciously engaging in and acknowledging the making of myths is part and parcel of the future of polytheist religions. We know from following various Holy Powers and Their stories through history that sometimes They accrue stories through a wide variety of ways. Sometimes it is because They tell a poet to write down their stories. Other times a writer collects Their stories into a book. Other times They gain Their stories through absorbing or syncretizing with other Gods, Goddesses, Ancestors, and spirits, and/or each Others’ stories. Any time someone says “I had x encounter with y God and this is what happened” they are engaging in living myth-making. We should not shy away from any of these. We need to actively embrace all of these ways of engaging with, and developing our myths with our Gods, Ancestors, and spirits.

How do we embrace it? We engage in direct experience of the Holy Powers. We write down ours and others’ experiences. We embrace new experiences of our Gods, Ancestors, and spirits that are rooted in our communities, what lore we can trust, and engage the informed discernment available to us in our communities. We meet our Holy Powers where we are, and we go on pilgrimages when we are called. We involve our Holy Powers in our everyday lives, and acknowledge and thank and note when They come through for us, in ordinary and extraordinary ways. To do this, we need to develop better language across the board for doing that. To do this, we need to develop good discernment based in our communities, and not leave that responsibility up to academics unconnected to our communities. We need to be proactive in working to develop standards within our communities for what is accepted and what is rejected to become part of the mythologies.

I use the word gnosis to describe personal experience of the Gods, Ancestors, or spirits. I do not tend to use the term UPG or Unverified Personal Gnosis that frequents reconstructionist circles because the term is often used dismissively or insultingly, and I have never seen its opposite, VPG or Verified Personal Gnosis, used in online conversation. There is plenty of writing on what UPG is and virtually nothing on what is VPG. PCPG, or Peer Corroborated Personal Gnosis is a term I sometimes use to get it across to folks that many people, usually in separate communities, had similar experiences with a given Holy Power. A simple example of this is offering strawberries to Freya. It is something a lot of people have offered to Her well before seeing it written down, and it still surprises some folks who do run into their gnosis written down in books today. A year or two ago, either at MI Paganfest or ConVocation, I ran into a person who had no knowledge this was a generally-accepted understanding of Freya, and was shocked that people around her were nodding their heads and saying “Sounds right.”

My dear friend and Brother Jim Stovall uses a phrase that I hope is on the mind and lips of everyone interested in developing the mythology and our relationships with the Holy Powers: spiritual accounting. He laid out the idea of spiritual accounting in an episode of the Jaguar and the Owl. Jim likens spiritual accounting to a three-legged stool, with the first leg being what stories and myths are already present, and what source writings, archaeology, linguistics, mythology, anthropology, and other sciences has to tell us. The second leg is divination. The third leg is experience accounting. He has gone so far as to set up an Excel spreadsheet of experiences he has had with given Gods, Goddesses, Ancestors, and spirits for how reliable They are, what was asked, and what resulted. His discernment accounts for the understanding that spirits do lie, and we may misinterpret the meaning of a message, or it may be more or less deep than we understand it to be.

If we are to have spiritual accounting for our living mythology, then our first leg needs to first be grounded in what we do know. We need to understand what it is the lore, archaeology, and other academic fields we have available to us have to say, and what the limits of those fields are. We also need a solid foundation in our religion(s) and tradition(s) as they exist. With a basis in what has come before and is now, we can be discerning about what becomes part of the corpus of the myths we carry into the future.

The second leg, divination, requires expertise in the work. It requires the willingness to understand we may not have understood or reified our experiences accurately. A given experience may have just been for us. A given experience may need context we do not have yet, or inspiration for a poet, or another experience to tie it into the mythologies we have before us. Divination requires us to consider that what is most important is that we seek the answer and report what we find without flinching, whether it confirms or denies the entry of experiences into the corpus of myths.

The third leg, experience accounting, is to be honest, truthful, and unflinching in our assessment of our signal clarity with the Holy Powers. It is to be clear in what our understanding was at the time a message was received, how it was understood, and how it was accounted for. It is to engage in active discernment with the Holy Powers we worship, and realize that sometimes information is given to us not because it may be completely truthful, but useful. It is not as if our Gods, Goddesses, Ancestors, or vaettir are not given to subterfuge, lying, misleading, or misdirection. These are part of powerful mythologies, such as the Rescue of Idunna or Thor’s battle of riddles and wits with Alsvin. The point of experience accounting is to see where pitfalls in our communications lie, to see where the Holy Powers may not be honest or forthright with us, and to understand that what we experience and/or receive may give us many windows to understand what does become part of the corpus of myths.

When I use a term like corpus of myths, the image of a great weathered book might sping to mind. That belies the understanding that, until relatively recently in time, most understood their myths orally. It is not my intent that only the written word becomes part of a corpus of myths. Some parts of myths and the practices that come from them should never be written down, such as a myth involved in a secret initiation. Some parts may be useful to write down, as with the previous example, so that those who qualify for an initiation have to know the right phrase, deeper meaning of a piece of mythology, and/or have taken in a key lesson from a myth before approaching to be initiated. Some parts of myths should be as accessible as possible, such as Creation Stories, stories of the Gods, Ancestors, heroes, spirits, etc. that give insight into Them, lessons for us, and/or how we are to relate to Them.

Developing myths, even ones that seem to clash with each other or with the previous sources, may be seen in terms of how mythologies have unfolded in living polytheist cultures. There are many Creation Stories out there, and having more than one Creator God or Goddess has never fazed me. I have space for Odin and Ptah among the Creator Gods. I have space for the four Creation Stories of Kemet and the Creation Story detailed in the Völuspá. I also recognize in the same blow that I am dealing with stories delivered through a variety of hands. Rather than seeing many Creation Stories as wrong, or only one right and the rest mistaken, I see each Story expressing its truth, its understanding, its worldview of the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits.

None of the stories as academia has handed them to us have anything to do with the construction of our religions. We have had to do that ourselves. Academics not of our communities are first and foremost concerned with academia and what each story tells us, has to say, and informs us of, what each story may hint at, and where the limits are in relation to their field of study. What differs us significantly here is that we seek to understand cosmogeny and cosmology so we may understand and live well within the worldview given to us by the cosmogeny and cosmology. Through understanding that worldview well we seek to live in right relationship our Holy Powers.

Developing myths is a process of developing theology. Myths provides the basis to understanding what our Gods are, what They do, Their place in the cosmos, our relationships to and with Them, and what offerings may be accepted by Them. Myths tell us who are Ancestors are, who and what we relate to as Ancestors, what our place as mortal Beings are in the cosmos, what offerings the Ancestors may accept, and what our relationships with Them should look like. Myths shows to us who the spirits are, what our relationships with Them are, Their varied places in the cosmos, what our relationships are, and what offerings They may accept. Again, mythology is not just the Creation Stories.

Myths are found as much in small things as great. The small myths may detail what offerings a God likes, and perhaps why. Stories written down, stories passed down, folklore, and personal experiences all may be part of mythology. A myth may be entirely wrapped up with a locale, such as Dionysus Laphystius with Mount Laphystus in Bœotia. Likewise, a part of mythology may relate to a Holy Power in respect to functions the God has dominion over or functions with/in, such as Lenœus, a name of Dionysus relating to His dominion over and function with the wine press.

For those identifying Athena as a Goddess of a war college like West Point or Athena as being a Goddess of libraries, this too is part of developing a God’s mythology. Where we find our Holy Powers and why, building up not only correspondences but understandings as to why a given Holy Power may look at a place as holy or one They have affinity for, places our understanding of our Holy Powers not only in the past, but in the immediate, the now. Looking for our Gods, Ancestors, and spirits in our modern landscapes is resacralizing our world, providing points of contact between ourselves and the Holy Powers. It also provides us unique opportunities to connect with Them in was our Ancestors may not have.

Shining Lakes Grove, an ADF grove, shows this work in practice quite clearly in their worship of Ana, the name they were given by the Goddess that is the Huron River in Ann Arbor, MI. Per their work within An Bruane they developed links with the Gods particular to their Grove and within the land they work and worship on. Were I to begin work with Ana, I would likely refer to their work and ask them questions on how to develop a good relationship with Her. After all, they have been doing this work well over twenty years. Likewise, they have developed a unique relationship with the land spirits and the Native American Gods that have called this land home.

In my recent post, Twice-Born, PSVL said:

Excellent work here! I love the series of Goddesses in the middle…that really adds a lot to this myth.

It was never my intention to add anything to the myth. I was inspired by the God to write a poem for Him telling His story. Yet, here I was adding to His myths. Every poem can build up the layers of meaning and understanding around a Holy Power, put new light to the old stories, and bring new stories into being. Writing mythology, whether through prose or poetry, is an act of co-creation with the Holy Powers. Far better for us to enter into this powerful and sacred relationship with care and clarity than to deny the connection this work forges between us and the Holy Powers.

Whether in brief or at length, each story written, each story told, each poem written, each poem spoken, each song sung, each one made for Them all build up our relationships with the Holy Powers. To be sure, not every bit of writing, poetry, or song is meant to build up myths, but all potentially may. We cannot leave our corpus of myths to the past or that is all we will engage with or understand.

Let us teach the myths that are the foundations of our religions and our communities in those conscious and sacred ways. Let us work to develop our myths with the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir in sacred ways, with care and devotion. Let us work to teach all of our myths consciously and thoughtfully, in sacred ways that honor the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, that bring us, individually and communally, into sacred and good relationships with Them.

Advertisements

Twice-Born

July 8, 2018 5 comments

The God caught Himself in the mirror and stood in awe

Absorbed, never thinking

That behind Him stalked His killers

 

Torn limb from limb

Body boiled, limbs roasted

 

The wine stained eyes fell from His mirror

Rolled up to His Father, whose wrath blazed

The furious bolt crashed

 

Dead fell the feasters

Dead fell the God-hungry

Living fell the beating heart of Lenaeus

 

Taken up by Athena it was blessed with knowing

Taken up by Demeter it was blessed with vitality

Taken up by Rhea it was blessed with purification

Taken up by Zeus it was blessed with power

Devoured by Semele, Dimetor came forth

 

The ivy-haired God shone forth

Twice-born of Semele learned again

To crawl, to step, to walk, to dance, to sing, to rave, to fight

 

He took up His gifts and power in glory

His sword felled every foe before Him

His thyrsus struck frenzy into His followers

His grapes crossed the world and brought wine to all peoples

His wine poured and dythrambic verse fell in power from His mouth

His ivy marked His paths and ways for worshipers and pilgrims

To follow Him where He would lead

 

O Zagreus Dimetor, O Reborn One! You show us the Ways!

O Isodaetes, You give free that we may give!

O Mighty Dragon, Your jaws have torn the foe!

Io Dionysos!

The Telling of Stories, the Singing of Songs

April 14, 2016 Leave a comment

Trying to grasp the ineffable

With fumbling hands and tongue

Reaching, stretching, trying

To bring the mind to order

The soul-deep to expression

The innermost understanding to bare expression

Stripped of majesty, shorn of glory

Dirt lying on the tongue, begging for water

 

O, the skin is dry!

 

Fill me, let me give water or wine

Give me words, give me words, give me words!

To express, to adulate, to bring You closer

To bring some part of You near

To drink and quench my thirst

To give and quench others’ thirst

To speak and share the stories

To create again and again

with each telling

The Worlds, Your births, Your deaths

Create and destroy and inspire and sacralize

Break and build and love and lose

Enliven and ensoul and enshrine and edify

Fill and free and craft and cleave

 

Let a billion tongues be sated by the waters of Your stories

a billion throats raised in song and word

a billion eyes enthralled by plays and stories

a billion ears entranced by hymns and teachings

For all Your stories and songs are precious

and all are the teachings tellings in their turn

holy, powerful, sacred

 

Let them be told and told again

Let them be sung and sung again

Passed on and on

That even those without an ear for music or a tongue for tales

may know You each in their own turn

and pass on in their way this knowing

 

Storytelling

June 17, 2014 Leave a comment

I sat in the dark with my son after night prayers, and a question came to me.

I asked him: “Do you have any questions about the Gods?”

His answer: “Who is Sif?”

It kind of surprised me; his question was not “What are the Gods?” or “Why is such-and-such this way?”.  He wanted to get to know the Gods we prayed to.

It has been awhile since we had read the stories or talked deeply about the Gods.  So, when he asked the question I did something that came naturally: I told a story.  I told him She is a Goddess, the wife of Thor, and we call to Her, thanking Her for Her generosity in the night prayer.  He asked why She was a Goddess of generosity, and I slipped into the story of how She kept Her composure when Loki burst into the hall, and still offered Him mead, as told in the Lokasenna.  He asked me why she would have been angry at Loki.  I told my son of how Loki had slain the doorman and insulted the Gods in Aegir’s hall, something one was not supposed to do.  He then asked why She would be angry with Loki.  So, I told him of how Sif’s hair had been cut by Loki before this, and still, She offered Loki to calm Himself and join the Gods in Aegir’s Hall.  He smiled, and he understood.  We worship Her, as well as Loki because They are our Gods.  They are not perfect; They are powerful, beautiful, mischievous, and so much more.  I saw my son’s face light up and crack into a grin as he asked what happened when Thor found out Loki had cut His wife’s hair.  He asked me smaller questions as the story went on, and it changed how I told the story.

He asked “Did Thor want to hurt Him?  What did Loki do?”  So I told of how Loki went down to the Dvergar and asked them to make Him a head of golden hair for Sif, hair that lived as Her had, and yet was made of gold.  His eyes lit up, still smiling, and he asked if Loki had been punished by the Aesir for what He did to Sif.  No, son, Loki made amends with Sif, giving Her that golden hair.  Thor may have wanted to, but Loki was not hurt; He had done as He promised, and made amends.

He came to know many Gods better tonight, not just Sif.  Did I tell him the whole story, of how Loki also convinced the sons of Ivaldi to make Skiðblaðnir and Gungnir?  No, it was not important at the moment.  He has heard the full story before, we’ve read it together.  I did emphasize how important the gifts Loki won were, how His mouth was sewn shut because Loki had wagered His head and lost.  That is the power of storytelling: we have to decide what to emphasize, what to put aside when we tell it, so it speaks to our listeners.  It does not make these two holy items, or their gifting to the Gods any less important.  It does not make Loki wagering His head less.  The telling of this part of the story would have lessened the impact of the story between Loki and Sif in this moment, and gotten before the point I wanted to make to my son: Loki made amends.  That when one makes amends one should not be punished further.

Our stories have to live from our lips and hearts to the ears and hearts of others.  If our stories do not live in us, what worth is there in telling them?

Where to Start?

November 9, 2013 2 comments

I have been pondering this question for a while now.  Where do we start when we are new to a path?  Do we dive into worshiping the Gods?  Should we?

I start at the Beginning.  A very good place to start.  Now that I’ve gotten my obligatory homage to Sound of Music out of my head…

I start with the Creation Story.  I start with where everything began, how it came to be, and I let the listener make up their mind how they wish to interpret it.  The point is, is that the Story is told.  We, eventually, are placed within the Story.  Without the cosmological understanding of how and why the Universe came to be, and where we fit in, what point is there in going on to the Gods?  If you do not understand how you relate to the Gods it is hard to begin to understand Them, much less worship Them, in anything like a proper context, or understanding.

Even if we do not understand the stories of creating the Worlds, the plants, animals, insects, etc., as literally true as-written, we can understand it on a level that transcends literalism, being true in its own way.  In the Norse Creation Story the first two Elements are Fire and Ice, Surt the Black being the First Being followed by Ymir.  Without going exhaustively through the text I can already tell some basic things: Fire and Ice are the Prime motivators of all life that follow, and all things began in the Void, the Ginnungagap.  They come into being naturally, needing no external force, or at least, no external force(s) that are remarked upon in the Story.  That, in and of itself, is important.  The Gods are not above or beyond the bounds of ‘what must be’ or ‘what is’ or ‘what is to come’ (Urðr, Verðandi, and Skuld).  They are, as much as They might be representatives, controllers, and/or arbiters of ‘what must be’, ‘what is’, and ‘what is to come’, in various fashion, part of Creation.  Nearly every Creation Story I can think of starts in darkness of some kind, some kind of nothingness.  So we come from what was not, becoming what is, and following into what is to come.  All things are bound in Wyrd in this way.

I start with teaching the belief that the Gods and spirits are real, that our Ancestors live on in Death in a spiritual form even if They reincarnate, and that there are spirits all around us in many forms.

When new to a path I encourage people to ask questions, and then again, I encourage questions when one is well-seasoned on a path.  There can never be enough questions.  Even at ten years of being a Pagan I still have questions.   So ask, and do research.  Explore.  Keep researching.  I have been a Pagan 10 years and I am still, and I pray, will always, be learning new things.

I asked if we should dive into worshiping the Gods.  I think that if you can you should.  The same with praying to the Ancestors and spirits, especially the land spirits of where you live.  If you can stand before an altar, a tree, a rock, and/or an image and offer words, a cup of water, a small candle, or a ‘hello’ just to start, do it.  Do it even if you’re not 100% sure that the Gods, Ancestors, or spirits are real.

Sometimes the best prayers are simple.   The purpose of prayer is to thank, ask questions, and/or make a request of a God/dess, Ancestors, and/or spirit,  Sometimes learning a prayer, such as Sigdrifa’s Prayer, is both an offering unto itself in addition to being a beautiful prayer.  Images on on your computer work well for visualizing the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits, and lighting a digital candle is fine as an offering in my book.  I used to live in a dorm room, and when I started I had 8 salt crystals in a small glass bottle and prayed on my dorm room floor.  I started worshiping the Gods after doing a little bit of research and a single lesson.  My relationships have changed fairly dramatically, but I learned how to worship the Gods, by-and-large, by worshiping Them.  I learned how to worship the Gods by refusing to not ask questions.  To explore, and to screw up.

However you can, start.  However you can, keep it up.  Do the best you can wherever you can.  Learn as much as you can, read all the stories of your Gods that you can get your hands on.  Learn all you can about your Ancestors, if you are able.  Learn about the spirits from your tradition(s), and especially from the locals if you know any.  Network, if you are able to and it is safe to do so.  Cultivate the relationships between yourself, the Gods, Ancestors, spirits, and communities around you however you can.  Know that you might not get clear answers from Them, that many who have worshiped the Gods their whole lives don’t always receive clear answers if they do get one.  Sometimes, maybe every time, you get silence in response to your prayers, and that is okay.  There are going to be down days, up days, days where your faith in your path, Gods, Ancestors, spirits, life itself, etc. is going to be challenged, and shaken; there may be days where your faith is blown clear out of the water, or raised up so high you’ll wonder how it was ever down.  However you can just keep walking.  Ultimately the relationship is between you, the Gods, the Ancestors, and the spirits.

This is just the start.

The Power of Words

July 3, 2013 1 comment

Words of love whispered at dusk

as night come rolling in

A voice in morning stillness sung

Piercing in reddened mist

Runes carved deep in the long tree trunk

Atop a horse head sits

Crossed out foe’s name with ink so fresh

The line is thin and slick

Like knives cutting into flesh

and ropes hung lingering long

The power of words carries on

in story, spell, and song

In words the power is still keenly felt

and fiercely is set free

So beware upon whom you turn your voice

in love or hating, speak

In our words our power holds clear

in friendship, ire, and oath

With it we may weave our Wyrd

and with them fulfill our troth

Yet our words may bring doom

Upon us or enemy

To our wrongs it may bind us fast

or in rightness set us free

So take care when you carve or sing, call or mutter low

Before you proceed all your words and works

And linger long after you go

Sigyn Project: Day 27

February 28, 2013 Leave a comment

I am a Seeker

a month of writing to You

and I still do not know You

Your Presence is calm

Your Voice is gentle most times

Yet, I still do not know You

 

I do not know You as a Mother

not truly, though I can feel Your sadness

for Sons torn by rage and pain

 

I do not know You as a Wife

not truly, though I have seen Your cave

and toiling, emptying the great bowl

 

I do not know You as a Goddess

not truly, though I hail Your Name

and praise Your gifts

 

How could I know You?

I praise Your Name as true as any of the Gods I worship

 

How could I know You?

I pour out offerings and gift to You, sure as any of the Gods I hail

 

How could I know You?

I have held Your bowl in offering, and had but a taste of Your Work and pain

 

How could I know You?

There is so much more than story or word or song or dance or life could tell

 

How could I know You?

I pray, I offer, I sing, I dance, I play, I do

 

I do know You

If any mortal can know a Goddess

Who has blessed their life

Who has sat, waiting, for the mortal to comprehend

Who has held the ones I love as they weep

Who has stood by me when I thought I had few friends

Who spoke for me

Who touches my hands

Who speaks in my ear

Who hears

Who despite all, remains

 

%d bloggers like this: