Use it, before you lose it.

Do you know what the grossest thing about this post is?

It isn’t that they said:

Humiliate him in front of his superiors. Collect receipts, send screenshots and videos of his bullshit to his superiors…send it to those superiors’ superiors. If they do nothing call the whole organization out. Blast it all over the internet. The occult world is small, the backlash will be swift.

Or:

Also, use the “anything goes” of the moshpit to get a few punches and kicks into your local skinheads at local shows.

Or:

Get a weapon. Are you mentally stable enough to own a weapon? Do you live in an open-carry state? If so get a weapon. I don’t care if it’s a knife, a bat, a gun, or fucking nunchucks…

Or:

Sabotage. Sabotage everything. Their protests, their social events, their rituals…their relationships. Sabotage them physically, sabotage them magically. Block them at protests. Blast distractingly loud noises in the vicinity of their rituals. Curse them liberally.

Or:

Trap them. Catch them doing or saying something illegal and record it. Anonymously notify the correct authorities. If he’s racist he’s probably also a raging misogynist, here is a pretty high percent chance he beats women. Bust him for that.

Or even this:

A teen raised in Asatru is like a teen raised in Christianity, they know no other way…

Advocating for violence, threats, stalking, harassment and other forms of intimidation to silence those who hold opinions contrary to your own is bad enough, but what really gets me is that 325 people saw this and thought it worthy of receiving a like or reblog. Granted one of them questioned something said in it, but the rest didn’t. Most eagerly cheered the OP on.

This is the endpoint of all the vile rhetoric G&R, HUAR and their ilk have been spewing over the last couple months; this is what they’re trying to turn your community into. This is what happens when good people remain silent and let it happen.

I’m turning off comments on this one because I don’t want to hear how much you agree with me. If this bothers you, go out and do something about it. Civilly, respectfully, non-violently – but firmly articulating the lines you do and do not want to see drawn. Your voice is the most powerful tool the Gods have given you: use it.

Healthy communities need healthy boundaries

Most of the time I’m a pretty chill “do whatever feels right for you and your Gods and Spirits” kind of guy (as you can see from the Laws I drew up here.) And then folks run up against my boundaries and discover that I am utterly uncompromising.

For instance, a couple years back I helped organize the Polytheist Leadership Conference. Rather than a conclave of leaders (as some people assumed because reading comprehension isn’t what it used to be) the theme was the need for leadership and vision within our overlapping communities and to encourage folks to get together in person to network and collaborate. We had a pretty decent turn out, including some delegates sent by groups from Europe. I bonded with the guys from one of these groups over shots of ouzo and macho bravado; there was even talk of finding ways for our mutual traditions to work more closely together.

And then later, I went out for a smoke break and overheard a private conversation a couple of them were having in their native language. They assumed, and rightly, that no one around spoke the language and so they let their guard down a bit. Problem is, although I couldn’t string a sentence together to save my life I happen to know enough of the language that I was able to make out a smattering of words. They weren’t nice words. In fact they’re some of the ugliest words that language has, derogatory terms for gays and transfolk. I sat there and finished my smoke then sought out the chief representative of the group and explained that as a priest of Dionysos I could not overlook what his people had said and I would not be seeking a deeper involvement between our traditions. I didn’t call them out, I didn’t try to shame them into changing their position or dictate what they could or could not believe or do in their own space – I simply explained where my boundaries were and what my obligations as host were, which meant that I simply was not able to compromise on this issue.

He took it in the best way possible and was utterly horrified by his people’s breach of etiquette. He explained it was a cultural thing and they didn’t actively hate gays or transfolk, but he would speak to them about it. And he did. A couple hours later the guys approached me, apologized profusely and said they would try to be more accepting and understanding henceforth. And I have to hand it to them, they were as good as their word. There were no further incidents over the weekend, they participated in a cathartic session and Dionysian ritual I led – it was quite a thing to behold, these big burly dudes opening up to the rest of the participants and sharing some incredibly personal things. I even saw them go out of their way to be inclusive and supportive of a couple of the transfolk in attendance. Talk about proper leadership in action.

And that’s why I won’t compromise. It is absolute, radical honesty with me – or nothing. Speaking up the way I did, there was a lot of risk involved. Not only could it have caused a scene, or started some kind of nasty feud between our respective groups – but these were some burly fucking dudes, and it’s not like I had anyone reliable backing me up if it came down to a brawl. None of those things mattered, however, considering my obligations to my God, my tradition, and to the principle of hospitality which is paramount in Greek and Italian religion.

Reading the comments on my wife’s latest post, it’s clear that folks really just don’t get the weight of these obligations. Any standards or requirements, regardless of how loosely they’re drawn or how liberally enforced trigger these people intensely. My wife wasn’t speaking for the whole of polytheism; she wasn’t claiming a mandate directly from the Gods; she wasn’t trying to tell anyone who isn’t interested in formally studying under her what to do. All she did was clearly delineate her stance on something and what she now requires of potential students.

And people went fucking apeshit on her. I’m sure the response will be even worse once this hits Tumblr and Facebook and I’m equally sure I’ll be fielding some questions though I do not, myself, advocate this policy.

As you watch this play out, however, pay attention. Read the arguments each side presents for yourself, carefully and calmly and without letting what others say prejudice you. Think about the consequences of what’s being proposed – not just in the immediate present, but down the line five, ten, thirty, or a hundred years from now. What kind of community do you want? What kind of traditions do you want to pass down to your children and your children’s children? Where would you draw the line? What are you unwilling to compromise on, and why? We may not agree where to draw our lines in the sand, but I think we can all agree that those lines need to be drawn or we end up with some really bad situations like the Wiccans are dealing with because of Kenny Klein and the Frosts. If you don’t draw the lines for yourself, someone else will do it for you. Those who are most vehement that we not have tradition, authority, structure and boundaries – ask yourself why and what they hope to gain through the erasure of such things.

Let the chorus cry, “Io evohe!”

You guys are dithyrambing well:

when you sleep
your soul becomes a dove
that flies to distant lands
that border the kingdom of Dream
and the bed of the Midnight Sun;
your soul flies with the winged Sirens
and the stars that breathe fire
flies with the ghosts
the wandering Dead
dances with them for a time
with a breath, with a sigh
gone far beyond the churn of time
beyond the reed, beyond the hallowed hall
beyond the tomb, the door which greets all
the lonely king, the dark queen,
they who wait for all
after death you’ll stay eternally
but nightly you’ll dance in their hall
careful! do not eat of their feasts, else
eternal is thy slumber here
thy story committed to the mind
a life lived long or short,
is judge by keeping one’s own code,
ere one came to Death’s Abode
all is tested in the flame;
words of gold and bone and smoke endure
upon the Sun’s bloody birth
the starry cloak of night drawn away
birdsong mourns the death of dreams
half remembered in the light of day
and last hypnopompic spasms
slow rise like Orpheus back
to the world of the living
don’t look back
flee the abyss and back to surface
shake off the weight of doubt
let your tender feet guide you up

I think I’ll let it go another week, see where we end up. Continue adding verses here since I’ve already done the initial compiling and formatting; you may contribute as often as you are inspired to. If you’re unsure where to take it, consider some of these locales.

to another discerning of spirits

In the core practices of the Starry Bull tradition course I teach we deal a lot with spiritual discernment, which is a topic of such importance that I’ve shared some of that material over at the Bakcheion. One of the students taking the course asked some really good questions, beginning with how does one practice διακρίσεις or discernment when they are suffering an episode of mental or emotional instability.

Step One: Self-evaluate. What’s going on, how bad is the episode, does it respond to the treatments laid out here, how is it impairing your mental and other faculties, can you talk it through with a friend, colleague or trusted elder or do you need the kind of assistance that only a competent professional can provide, etc. Along with self-evaluation should come self-care. It’s okay to put things aside until you’re able to deal with them again later. That doesn’t always work – sometimes shit just keeps happening, whether we want it to or are capable of handling it – but know it’s at least something you can try, and that doesn’t make you less of a devotee, spirit-worker, etc. It takes more time and more effort to come back from a break, so don’t be irresponsible and bootstrap it when you know you shouldn’t.

Step Two: If this situation is not at a crisis level but is still affecting your perception and ability to function, begin by writing everything down. Just because you’re having an episode does not mean that everything you’re experiencing is automatically the product of delusion. On the other hand, you can’t be certain that it isn’t, either. So don’t make any rash decisions or take immediate action based on what you’ve received. Instead, come back and analyze the material once you feel more stable. Does it still make sense or does it read like the ravings of a lunatic? More importantly, of what use is this information? If it has the potential to alter your understanding of the Gods and Spirits and how you relate to and worship them or is deeply personal, then keep pursuing your line of inquiry; if not then either discard it or file it away for future reference, as it may end up making more sense down the line.

Step Three: At this point, you have several options open to you. You may choose as many as are helpful and execute them in whatever order suits you, or not.

  • Pray for guidance, instruction, discernment and any other spiritual gifts that will help you navigate this uncertain terrain. While you may get a direct response from them it is best merely to ask for assistance and confirmation going forward, as your signal clarity could have become compromised.
  • Hit the books. See if you can find corroboration in the lore, academic literature or the writings of contemporary practitioners. Some of the bizarrest stuff I’ve encountered while working with altered states or while suffering from a manic episode has turned out to be a strain of tradition I simply had not been aware of previously. A lot of information can be found online, but tread carefully as most of it is utter crap. Now, just because something appears in a book or on a website does not make it true; likewise, plenty of true things have never been written down. All that this material can do is provide you a glimpse into other people’s experiences and insights. Sometimes there’s convergence; plenty of times there is not. Also keep in mind that experiences with Gods and Spirits are always idiosyncratic; two people may go through the same thing but describe it very differently.
  • Talk with friends, other people who are doing similar work, or a religious specialist whose opinion you trust. See if they have had similar experiences, if they have suggestions for further research, if they can recommend other people you can talk to and if they have any thoughts on what’s happening or how you should proceed. Now, depending on your relationship with and level of trust and respect for this person you will know how much weight to give their suggestions. That’s all this should be – it still falls to you to decide whether you accept what happened or not, and to act upon it. If everyone is telling you it sounds like bullshit, that’s definitely something to pay attention to – but on the other hand they may not have the first clue what they’re talking about. All this and the previous line of inquiry can do is suggest; you still must decide for yourself.
  • Divine divine divine. Because of your closeness to the situation, you may want to have a trusted diviner read for you in addition to whatever divination you perform. Different traditions have different protocols on this, but I tend to hire three diviners and then compare the results from each reading. No matter how bizarre your experience, if all three come back positive it’s a pretty good indication that this is a legit thing. Keep in mind that this is very different from shopping around your questions until you get an answer you want and I strongly advise you to only provide the absolutely necessary information and keep back some significant piece as a means of verification. Of course, just because that piece doesn’t come up in the reading does not necessarily render it invalid: often the Gods and Spirits will only provide answers about what you asked (and how you asked it) which is why you must choose your words carefully.
  • Ask for a sign. Something specific enough that you can be relatively certain when you see it, but also open enough that you do not strain their ability to act. For instance, you may ask for a clear message or kledone or that a certain symbol appear three times. Set a reasonable timeframe, and then pay attention because signs often come to us in unexpected ways and unconventional forms. If you receive your sign make a generous offering to the God or Spirit since they’ve gone out of their way to assuage your doubt. If no sign appears then that means no sign appeared. It probably also means that you were wrong but that cannot be inferred just from this. Sometimes a sign doesn’t appear because you need to do this without knowing, trusting in their guidance.

She also asked what one should do when they were reasonably certain about a divinity’s identity but what they’re receiving doesn’t really line up with what others get.

Well, I add that to the list of evidence that I am compiling and continue with my inquiry.

All by itself the fact that your experience does not line up with the experiences of others is of limited significance. There are plenty of perfectly valid explanations for why this might be:

  • You are encountering a distinct, localized expression of the divinity.
  • Either your encounter with the divinity was not as deep as theirs or it was much deeper.
  • The divinity may be showing you a different side of itself because each person will have different needs, degrees of intimacy or roles to perform.
  • Either you or they may be encountering an entity which is masquerading as the divinity. This can either be because that entity is part of the divinity’s train or retinue and thus partakes of their nature, because it is malign and trying to deceive you or because the divinity and the entity have made a prior arrangement and there’s some reason why it must engage with you in this form. Or your brain is just reading them as X because of their closeness to the divinity and no deception was intended on their part.
  • Others may be wrong, delusional or lying. Conversely, this may be true of you whether you realize it or not.

But it is something to pay attention to, especially if your experience not only doesn’t conform to the experiences of the majority of the divinity’s devotees, but also does not reflect what is commonly known of this divinity’s personality, attributes, powers and domains, as well as what may be found in the lore and academic literature on them. All of these, individually, may not hold much weight but taken together they provide a pretty solid argument that what you’re encountering may not be what it seems. Now, again, you may just be dealing with a different form of them, but it should give you cause for reflection, to say nothing of divination and other external methods of corroboration.

If everything points to them really being them, and they seem okay with it, then just start dealing with them in this particular form. Figure out what their preferences are, if there are specific rites that need to be performed or taboos observed and go about building up a devotional relationship with them as you would any new divinity you happened to meet. You may or may not maintain separate cultus for this divinity under their more conventional form.

One of the things you’ll need to decide is how much you share with others, particularly when they deal with a radically different form of the divinity. Specifically, what do you get out of sharing; how does the other party benefit from the sharing and is it something they can actually do something with or will it be purely theoretical for them; how likely are they to respond negatively to this information; what can you lose by sharing it; is it the proper time and space to share such information; how does the divinity feel about you sharing what is likely very personal and intimate; and are there specific protocols associated with its sharing?

Finally, she asked how we can avoid letting preconceptions about a divinity limit our interactions with them.

The simple answer is seek them in their fullness, without distinction or judgment. But simple is not always easy, especially when you don’t know how to do the thing.

So begin by asking yourself:

  • What preconceptions do I have?
  • How did I arrive at them?
  • Is there any basis in reality or are they shaped entirely of supposition, fear and uncertainty?
  • Why do I hold onto them?
  • In what ways do they influence me, even if on an unconscious level?
  • What would it mean to lay them aside?
  • Specifically, how would laying them aside change how I understand and interact with this entity?
  • What would laying them aside even look like?
  • What would I replace them with?

Sit with these questions for as long as you need to. Spend time actively reflecting on them as well as letting your brain mull them over while you go about your day. If it helps, try writing out your answers stream-of-consciousness style in addition to taking notes. Once you have answers, go back through and feel out what it would be like if your answers were completely different. Then actually try doing it. It’s going to feel weird, artificial, awkward at first. How can you consciously change your thoughts or alter your emotions? If you are determined enough you can do anything. In the early stages you may want to tie a string around your finger or wrist as a mnemonic aid, and when you notice it reinforce your change of mind and behavior. (Remember – the brain doesn’t hear “no” so frame it as a positive.) You may find yourself falling back into old patterns of thought or encountering mental blocks you had dissolved already. Keep going. With time and practice, it’ll feel more natural to you and you may only need to do it long enough to facilitate some kind of personal breakthrough in your relationship with the divinity. Alternately you may want to ritualize the process by tearing up, cleansing or burning cards representing your preconceptions so that they will no longer have any power over you.

The Library is a Labyrinth

Necromancy

Galina reposted a piece she wrote on how a woeful misinterpretation of source material leads to erroneous notions such as Freyja, Queen of the Valkyries and why this matters.

To do polytheism right requires well-honed critical faculties and an appreciation for differentiation. Reading isn’t enough; you need to know how to properly evaluate what you’re reading or you’ll wind up meandering through mad and fruitless passages.

This is a significant problem within mainstream contemporary Hellenic polytheism and I think it stems primarily from an inability to distinguish between types of religious literature as a result of the priority given to the Christian scriptures in our society. That is to say, Christians have one Bible and how they treat this book has influenced our understanding of what it means for something to be a piece of religious writing, whereas the ancient view was far more nuanced and complex. Plus, they’re a people of the Book; we’re the people of the Library!

Take Orpheus, Homer and Diodoros Sikeliotes as an example. (Note that I am simplifying things greatly by positing a single “Homer” and “Orpheus” as authors of the works attributed to them, but I don’t want to get too side-tracked in this discussion.) All of these men wrote about Gods, mythological events and cultus and as such their work could be classed as “religious” but there’s a wide gulf between the type of writing they did and their intent in doing so. Consequently we should evaluate them differently and give their words varying degrees of authority.

Diodoros, for instance, was writing primarily as an historian – his discussion of Gods and their rites comes in a work intended to chronicle the totality of human culture and accomplishment from its start up to his own times. There’s a great deal of mythological material and accounts of variant local traditions, but it’s because this serves his narrative needs or he’s relaying the beliefs and words of others, not because he’s laying out his own understanding of things. Indeed he frequently expresses skepticism and doubt about what he’s discussing or offers his own rationalistic (often euhemerizing) interpretation as a counterpoint.

This is very different from Homer who is consciously working within an established, albeit localized and divergent, mythological tradition which he is using to provide a contextual background for the stories he wants to tell about the heroes of Troy. His intent is to praise these men (and flatter his audience by emphasizing their own connection to great events and figures from the past) and add to the tradition he has inherited from his oral predecessors. Homer’s words become invested with authority over time, recited at festivals and scrupulously studied, so that they come to shape a Pan-Hellenic consciousness of myth, tradition and the Gods and heroes. There wasn’t universal agreement with him, but all discussion was carried out with reference to his epic poems.

Different again are the works of Orpheus – they represent a unique revelation and a specific tradition with Orpheus as its head and final arbiter. They are not concerned with the products of human culture and the Gods as important peripherals to that – their intent is to bring about an understanding of these powerful personages and set forth the science of ritual engagement with them.

As such, we need to evaluate each of these forms of religious literature differently, regardless of whether we accept the claims made within them and in particular we must avoid assigning greater authority to them than was intended by the writer – or at least be conscious that we are doing so.

For instance, I find a lot of valuable information in the works of early Christian apologists such as Clement of Alexandria, Hippolytos of Rome and Origen – but these are very problematic sources, since they are often intentionally distorting what they discuss for aggressive rhetorical purposes, all the way down to outright fabrication. This hostility, in addition to the biases all authors possess, need to be factored into any conclusions one makes about ancient polytheist religion based on them.

Think about this the next time someone flings a quote at you – especially when it’s so easy to fabricate false ones. Truth will set you free.

Let’s make a dithyramb!

testsymbol

I’ll kick it off (I do it thunderstruck with wine) and then you guys add your own stream-of-consciousness verse. Don’t overthink it, just let the words flow and follow upon what the last person stitched in. I’ll decide when it’s done.

Ready? Set? Go!

when you sleep
your soul becomes a dove
that flies to distant lands
that border the kingdom of Dream
and the bed of the Midnight Sun;
your soul flies with the winged Sirens
and the stars that breathe fire
flies …