Monthly Archives: April 2015


I’ve been thinking about what to write about the Baltimore uprising. This isn’t it, but it is very good.

EmberVoices: Listening for the Vanir

As much as I hate to think of violence as a solution, these riots really are necessary for change. On a personal level, I totally get it that if somebody isn’t respecting a peacefully expressed boundary, sometimes the only way to enforce that boundary is violence. Everything I have ever been taught says to never escalate.

But one thing I’ve learned is that the concept of “escalation” has to be weighted according not only to the moment you’re in, but according to the relative power levels of those involved, and the larger pattern between them. My Mom taught me that if a man beats his wife with his fists, she’s not escalating if she hits back with a frying pan – and if he can hit her with his fists at any time, maybe it’s fair if she has to wait until he’s not hitting her to get her swing…

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Mr. Crimson Speaks to the Youth of Today!

More poetry, this time from an old friend from college, Joshua Neff, Action Librarian. This piece originally appeared on his blog, Goblin Cartoons.

It speaks to me of personal revolution, which strikes me as a very Dionysian thing.

Mr. Crimson Speaks to the Youth of Today!

wage your war on the streets
& wear sapphires on your feet
& disassemble your beliefs
& give aid to their relief
& exhaust your chocolate treats
& let loose your funky beats
& wear opals on your feet
& retake the gentrified streets
& overthrow the richest thief
& reassemble your beliefs
& let your dreams be incomplete
& never let your friends be beat
& don’t be salty when you’re sweet
& make our wars grow obsolete

A Wild God

Over on tumblr, amaskofivy shared this, and I thought I’d share it (with permission) with all of you.

A Wild God
A wild god grants no wishes, but miracles spill from his lips; thick and crude and unpolished words that snap and bite at your ankles. And so do your footfalls cause the earth to tremble, for his gifts are not for receiving. A wild god’s blessings receive you.

He eats the flesh raw. A wild god carves no arrows, strings no bows, crafts no swords or axes. He scoops you from the river and sinks his teeth into you as you squirm, tender flesh giving way to the mouth that bloodies itself with doubt and hesitation and tremors of the mind. He deals in terror, takes fear in exchange for a glass of wine.

A wild god dwells in temples, sleeps on marble floors and wakes in the night for the hedonists that chant his name, singing Io, Io, Io! He slips into the crowd to mark the ground with footsteps and spittle and semen, chanting Io, Io, Io! What glorious decadence! What beautiful debauchery ensues on the mountainside.

A wild god ruins parties with the shades of lessons unlearned, entering cracks in the mind and festering, bringing forth memories of agony and aches and falling apart. A wild god makes walls when you run from ghosts, and smiles as you fall to your knees in tears.

For a wild god grants no wishes, but miracles fall from his palms; smoldering like charcoal and lighting little fires to keep you warm in the night as you learn to make your own. Up and up and up they rise, and the flames seem a beacon of hope.

A wild god raises the ground you stand on and whispers “Io.”

On Good Spiritual Hygiene

What methods does your tradition employ for protection and the warding off of malign influences?

Good boundaries, regular bathing, moderate exercise, and not reading comments most places on the internet. That last one is important, trust me.

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Scheduling Oops

In a mistake doubtless caused by a drunken frenzy involving Maenads, a yak, and ten feet of rubber tubing (don’t ask), I seem to have screwed up the scheduling of today’s post. Apparently, I set it to post yesterday at noon, rather than today.

So, of course, it posted at 2:30 in the morning. I usually schedule them for noon so as to send out automatic notices when people are likely to be awake and paying attention.

Which is why I’m posting this note. The post that was supposed to be in this slot is Measuring Up or Measuring At All. You can follow that link, or just scroll down.

Measuring Up or Measuring At All

I’m going to let you in on a little secret, just between you and me.

I’m a bad polytheist.

The fact is, my daily practice is more weekly, sometimes monthly. Sometimes, doing basic housework is all the spiritual oomph I have in me. Sometimes, I sneak past my altars in shame for my lack of piety.

There are days when I actually don’t think I’m any good at this, that I’ probably not really someone anyone should listen to.

But then there are the days my shit works, when I can muster the will to do it, like the day I hauled my coughing, wheezing ass out of my sickbed to go lead this ritual I’d promised, and a hundred people danced joyously in Dionysos’ honor. People whose judgment I trust tell me I have it (whatever it is), whether I can tell or not.

So maybe I’m better at this than I think I am?

I have great ambitions for my practice (to be put in greater detail in a later post), but my follow-through is not what I’d like it to be. The bit that’s relevant, here, is the question of whether or not part of my problem is being daunted by the scale of my plans. It doesn’t sound like much, to me. Daily devotions to five or six important spirits, putting together a devotional group for Dionysos, quarterly open (if not totally public) rituals…

I mean, reading some blogs, I get the idea that’s downright easy. The Thiasos of the Starry Bull gives regular prayers to at least 13 entities, yeah? The Ekklesía Antínoou have a sanctus to celebrate for almost every day of the year. My five or six (or seven or nine, depending on how fine you cut it), plus ancestors, land spirits, and beloved dead, is hardly anything at all, right?

But there’s this gap between the ideal and the achievable, isn’t there? In reality, my various shrines get a single, all-in-one mass prayer, maybe every few days. My ancestor altar gets attention when I notice it’s a few days past when the flowers should have been replaced.

While I’m trying to do that, I’m also job hunting, editing fiction for a publishing startup, doing housework for a collective household, helping care for a disabled partner, and also struggling with my own depression and anxiety issues.

So… Where does one strike the balance? And how does one tell when one is truly overloaded, or just using one’s load to justify not taking the Scary Next Spiritual Step? After all, I read somewhere that, if one is truly devoted to one’s gods, one will find the energy somewhere; doesn’t that also mean that if one does not or cannot, one must not be truly devoted?

One thing I hear–though not necessarily from the same sources–is that one can’t judge one’s progress by comparison with others. Maybe true, though it sounds strangely convenient. But, damn, it would be nice to have signposts, and maybe maps left behind by the last people to come this way…

But I’m rambling. The main thing here is that I want to be honest about what my practice actually is, what it isn’t, and what I want it to be. I want to talk about the obstacles I face, as well as the successes. To do that, I need to be clear about what I do and have done, and the difference between that and what I have yet to do.

Because, in the end, I’m just one guy. I have some experience, and some wisdom, and a whole lot yet to learn. I’m here in the hope that there are others from whose example and advice I might learn, and to share what I have with the ones who need it.

And to do that, we all need to be honest and clear about what it is we do.

The Un-Fun House Mirror

There are times when I am, I fear, a grumpy old man. Times of despair and frustration, when I hike up my pants and grap my waving-cane, thinking thoughts like, “most Pagans today are just dilettantes who want nothing more than a good party and a vague, non-falsifiable sense of personal power!”

I had a moment like that yesterday. Like many attracted to the Raving One, I have a kind of madness. Not the fun kind that leads to frenzied dancing and too much wine and staying up for a week. No, I have rather severe depression, with equal helpings of anxiety, that comes and goes in waves. It’s a dark, lonely place full of dark, lonely thoughts.

I don’t particularly like being there. Sometimes I can pull out of it with music and movement, sometimes not. Sometimes it has to be endured until it passes of its own accord.

Those are the bad times when I think poorly of the world in general, and of my fellow Pagans and polytheists in particular. Normally, I don’t fall to the fallacious thought that people I think are like me ought to be better than everyone else. But at such times…

So I thought that uncharitable thing about my co-religionsists. After, I had to undo that thought, and remind myself that people usually reach as high as they have to to get what they want, assuming there’s nothing holding them back. Lots of people in Paganism are getting out of it exactly what they need; and if all they need are a few public rituals and the occasional candle-burning with friends, then good for them.

I want more. I want daily, monthly devotions. I want to host quarterly and annual devotionals. I want to work with a tight group of folks who are seek intense experience of the presence of the gods.

But that’s what I want, and sometimes I forget that what I want is not a good measure of what other people should want, or what they need, or what they should help me get.

We aren’t all mystics. And expecting the majority of others to be is just going to piss them off and leave myself feeling even more isolated.

Depression is a warped mirror, through which I see the world distorted into the shape of my own feelings of failure. It takes considerable effort to un-twist that vision, but I’m stronger for it.

Speaking of the Unspeakable

You know what? Toasted bananas and singed monkey hair are a rather unpleasant smell combination.

What role does mystery play in your tradition?

Well, usually a rogue of some kind.

No, wait. Religion, not gaming. That’s the other blog.

No, really, what role does mystery play in your tradition?

OK, enough stalling. It depends on what tradition you’re talking about.

In my Dionysian practice, I have been given a mystery to share, but I’m not at a place where I can. A year ago, at OhChristWhatTimeIsIt in the morning, I woke from a dream with Himself telling me, “I give you a mystery. Here are the words and the signs…” By the time I realize I’m not dreaming anymore, He’s already rolling along, and I’m saying in my most reverent tones, “Hang on, let me get a pen!”

Essentially, Dionysos dictated the climax of a mystery initiation to me. Now, it’s up to me to write the rest of the initiation, undergo it myself (tricky when I’m the only one who has it, but I have a friend who can help), and create some kind of context in which I might be able to share it with someone, some day.

So, for my Dionysian practice, mystery is one of the things that spurs me on and gives me some central symbols to work with.

However, I’m also an initiated Central Valley Wiccan, which (as a branch of the British Traditional Wicca family) is a mystery tradition. It’s also an oathbound tradition, so I have to tread lightly to keep my oaths. Fortunately, the nature of mysteries helps here.

You see, where a secret is something you must not tell, a mystery is something you can not tell. It’s a numenous experience, something that doesn’t fit well into words. Oh, I could formulate a sentence that says something more-or-less like the mystery, but it wouldn’t have the same impact, emotionally and spiritually, as experiencing the revelation of the mystery. The words might be accurate, but they’d be hollow.

Still, I try not to do that, either. As I’ve said in other contexts, “And this is why we do not speak of the Mysteries to the uninitiated. We’ll sound like idiots.”

Oh, Central Valley Wicca? No, I hadn’t forgotten. The mystery is the experience of the presence of the gods.

I told you it wouldn’t convey the important stuff. If I were a better poet, I could go on about the feeling of something vast and old poking a finger into my head and flooding me with images, the smell of October in Iowa, campfire smoke, blood, the feeling of fur (from the inside and the outside, at the same time). The light shining in the dark inside me, the space that is so much vaster when They are in here than it ever is when I’m alone, flickering film effect the only thing that keeps the images separate enough to register, the taste of cool wine and hot skin, frosted earth crunching underfoot as the flames of the corn king leap into the sky…

But, I’m not that much of a poet, so I’ll leave it there.

It occurs to me that this is also the heart of the Dionysian mysteries I’ve been chasing and helping others chase: The experience of the presence of the God. His breath on the skin, his fingers in the hair, his winedark blazing eyes…

So many things are too big to fit inside our waking human minds. So many things are too subtle and vast for waking language. So the gods put us in strange states of mind and sing to us in the language that is what dreams are before we wake up and try to remember them.

What role does mystery play? Not a big one, in terms of time and words spent on ritual. But it plays the most important role, without doubt.

My lover Ember and I have decided to go through Galina Krasskova’s Devotional Polytheist Meme questions together, over the next several months. We encourage our friends to follow along, and welcome links to other people’s answers in our comments, as well as your thoughts on our answers. Ember’s answer can be found at her blog, Embervoices.

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