Tag Archives: experience

Melek Ta’us: Beginning

A Month of Written Devotion for Melek Ta’us, the Peacock Angel

In Valerie’s Feri class, each of the students was asked to pick one of the gods we’d studied, and write a teaching ritual to introduce the god to our fellow students.

I picked Melek Ta’us because, at the time, I thought him to be the closest of the Feri gods to my beloved Dionysos. It wasn’t until later that I understood that Victor Anderson’s saying, “All gods are Feri gods” meant that I could worship Dionysos by his own name with the techniques I learned in Feri.

But, hey, it got me a new god for my altars, and who doesn’t love that?

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Melek Ta’us: Together

A Month of Written Devotion for

Melek Ta’us, the Peacock Angel

I was with my then-lover, now an ex-, in her backyard. She’d asked me to ward while she did some magical work of her own, and I was happy to help. I stood behind her while she did her thing (her story, not mine, to tell).

In my own vision, I was solid and quiet, a wall between her and the world. I reached around her, encircling, wrapping around and above and below. Things were going well.

That’s when I felt an itch on my back. An itch of the spirit, not the flesh. An itch where wings were scratching their way out. What the hell? I thought. But I remembered other times when I’d been warder, and had envisioned wings for myself, to spread around the witch I was warding. Sure, I thought, Let’s go with it.

This is the first important part, the vital part. I could have said no. I felt the beginning of the wings, and I knew I wasn’t doing it, consciously, but I chose to let it happen. For years, I blamed the rest on Melek Ta’us. But I let him in, knowing who was knocking.

Yes, I know how it sounds. Keep reading.

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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.


Soul Retrieval

Earlier this week, I had a dream that continued beyond waking.

In the dream, I was exploring a strange landscape with a few friends. There was a low-key vibe of epic quest, if that makes sense; a feeling of weight and importance without an aggressive string section or bombastic drums.

The trip was some kind of magical training, a way of learning ways of being in the world. We were on our way home when we stopped at a sinkhole for one last exploration, into a labyrinth. We had to learn to change shape to navigate the twists and turns.

This is the bit where I woke up, winter sun poking me in the eye through an evidently too-thin sleep mask. But the dream held, and in it I encountered an ex of mine. The meeting was nervous, but not fearful. I looked at her and knew that I had left a piece of myself with her, and that here was an opportunity to take it back.

When she first appeared in the dream, she looked as she had when we were dating, years ago. I took her into my arms and gathered her in, willing myself to feel her as she had felt then. Still holding her, I stepped back, pulling my memory of her with me, into myself, and looking upon her and seeing her as she now is–or at least as she was the last time I saw her, several weeks back.

I told her what this was about, just before allowing myself to fully awaken. There were ways of being, of feeling, of exploring that I allowed myself when I was with her that I had not allowed myself since. If we are meant to learn things from our relationships (leaving aside for the moment the important question, “meant by whom?”), I learned things about myself with her that I associated so strongly with that relationship that I locked them away when we broke up.

This dream-act was my will to reclaim those parts of myself from the time/place in which I’d buried them.

First thing I did upon getting out of bed was to write The Black Heart.

The Black Heart of Innocence is a Feri thing, described by Victor Anderson, so:

How beautiful is the black, lascivious purity of small children and wild animals

I didn’t fully grasp it, when I was actively studying Feri. I could describe it; I had the intellectual definition down. But I didn’t know what it felt like, not until I retrieved a key piece of understanding it with this dream.

And thinking about it, this is what Melek Ta’us was giving me that time He stepped inside my skin when I was warding for someone else’s magic. I’d thought He was using me to get to her–and He was–but I did not appreciate what He gave me in doing so. I was so afraid of what I felt, even as I was going with it and giving in to it, that I did not see what He was opening in me, only what He was giving to her.

So much locked away in memory, buried treasure with only a fixation on the past to point the way.

What I learned of Feri practice was the cultivation of the Black Heart and the balancing of self so that it can safely manifest in life. I need to get back to that work.


I Think I See What the Fuss is About

Recently, I was interviewed on the This Week in Heresy podcast. (You can listen here) The first few of comments to the interview are in, and they’re enlightening.

To sum up some of my points in the interview, I said that we can have a solid spiritual communtiy dispite differing theologies if we can communicate clearly and without judgment about our spiritual expereinces. Key to this is having defined terms with which to do this communicating. Polytheism means the worship of many gods, duotheism means the worship of two gods, and monism means the worship of a single divine entity, experienced (perhaps) one small part at a time. None of these are better or worse than the others (if the gods want to reveal themselves to me as many and to someone else as one, I’m not going to tell them to do otherwise), but they are different, and we can’t respect those differences or work with them without being able to name them and talk about them.

The first comment, however, is that the commenter sees no reason to distinguish between polytheism and monism. Which might indicate that I didn’t make my point clearly, so I try again. I describe my own experiences of the gods very generally, which description the commenter quotes back, says matches their own, and then says that they don’t see that having that experience means they aren’t a polytheist.

Which is odd, given that I described that expereince to explain what I meant when I said I am a poltheist. At any rate, I’m skipping details for the sake of brevity. If you really want to get into it, you can read the comment thread (but listen to the interview first).

Reflecting on it, what I think I’m seeing here, and in a good many other discussions of polytheism as distinct from other Pagan expereinces on line and off, is a confusion between the definitions of the terms and the emotional connotations of the terms.

People who use a very broad (including monism, duotheism, and so on) definition of polytheism seem to be less interested in the details and differences of various Pagan spiritual experiences and practices, and more in defining their positions as not monotheism. Monotheism is what they left behind or rejected upon becoming Pagan. Monotheism is the belief of Abrahamic sects; and so Polytheism is anything not those, which is to say, Pagan.

This ignores the fact that there are non-Abrahamic monotheisms, such as the Sikhs, but we’re talking about gut reactions here, not technical definitions.

What I’m seeing is that there is a fundamental dualism in practice, where defining Pagan as “not Abrahamic monotheism” is equated on an almost unconscious level with Pagan=Polytheist vs. Abrahamic=Monist. So when someone who’s using polytheism to distinguish a particualr variety of Pagan practice and experience tries to explain the difference, what’s being reacted to on an emotional level is not, “What you’re describing isn’t polytheism, it’s some other kind of Paganism,” but “You aren’t really Pagan.”

This leads to a reaction like, “I am too polytheist! You can’t invalidate my Paganism!” Which was, of course, never the intention.

Which, in turn, leads to a massive derail as we argue about just what “polytheism” means and whether or not someone making the distinction is a disruptive splitter.

I’m not sure what can be done to avoid triggering this gut reaction. Possibly, the problem will age out as folks who never identified as part of an Abrahamic faith (and thus are not invested in defining themselves as not-Abrahamic) become the majority in the community. For the moment, I’m just going to keep patiently explaining what I actually meant, and how that’s different from what someone may have felt I meant.


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