Tag Archives: Polytheist Meme

A Love of Spirit

What have you inherited from your ancestors?

What haven’t I inherited from my ancestors? Genetically, socially, materially… I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t had the ancestors I did. Not just in the simple sense of not having been born without my parents; I would not be the person I am without the advantages and challenges they’ve left me.

But that’s all fairly generic, isn’t it?

My father was an easy man to love, but not an easy man to live with. Growing up, I’d thought he was always disappointed in me, as if I’d failed some test I didn’t know I was taking. In reality, he was dealing with serious depression. Late in his life, he would often talk about feeling he’d failed me as a parent.

I get depression–I got it from him. I know what he went through, and with my own son, I can imagine how hard he tried to keep his depression from affecting me too badly.

Another thing I got from him was a thirst for spirit.

My father, perhaps because of his depression, was a very religious man. For years, I’d thought that our family had always been very involved in the Southern Baptist Church, but talking with family after my father’s funeral, I learned that he was the one who got them involved.

He was passionate about his Christianity, but he was never overbearing about it. I remember a period of my early teens where many of the things I wanted came with something religious attached. The example I remember the best was a DC Comics trivia book I wanted. I showed it to him, and he came back with a Bible study workbook, telling me I could have the one if I also took the other.

I don’t think I looked at the Bible workbook more than twice, actually.

Another thing I remember was the year we lived in Missouri. At the time I had no idea, but having to move away from his church must have been as hard on him as moving away from his family. We must have tried half a dozen churches that year. They were all Protestant evangelical denominations, but I think I owe much of my interest in the diversity of religious expression to that year.

I particularly remember the small church, run out of the living room of a farmhouse. It was folk guitar and barbecue and praying in tongues. Now that I think on it, this probably predisposed me to the culture of modern Paganism.

My father never really came to terms with where I took it, but I will always thank him for giving me a love of spirit.

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.


Frequent Maintainance Required

When did it first dawn on you that the divinities are real?

Frequently. As in, I need to be reminded fairly frequently. My sense-memory of their presence fades all too quickly, leading to worries that they were never there in the first place. Until they show up again.

I’ve believed pretty much everything about the gods in the last 25 years, except for the Atheist Pagan view of them as being only cultural symbols, memes running in our brain meats–but just because of that “only.” I think they are cultural symbols and memes, and a whole bunch of other things besides, most of which I’ll probably never know.

When I started on this path, back at the end of the 1980s, I was practicing an ecclectic Wicca derrived mostly from Spiral Dance and Drawing Down the Moon. It was more than twenty-five years ago, in Iowa, and those books were the only contact we had with other Pagans. So, we did rituals to The Goddess, and I did get a feeling I’d come to recognize as divine presence. Not a sense of personal identity, mind you, but we called and somebody picked up the line.

Where it turned around for me was Yog Sothoth.

Yes, the imaginary god from the writings of H.P. Lovecraft and his friends. One night, I decided to try and summon something rather than just call The God and The Goddess. Being mostly solitary at that point, in my early twenties, and smarter than I was wise, I figured that there were enough people who knew of Yog Sothoth, even enough magicians who tried to work with it, that there might be something out there answering to that name.

So I cast the circle as I did every month at the full moon, and when I got to the deity invocations, I started calling Yog Sothoth by all the names and attributions I knew from years of reading Lovecraft.

And I started feeling a presence forming.

And the voice of my better sense, who was apparently down at the pub when I concocted this plan, rushed up and said, “Think this through. Even if all you’re calling up is the collective imagination devoted to visualizing this entity for fiction, do you remember what inevitably happens to people who succeed in calling it up?!?

At that point, I rather hastily–and politely–shut things down, banished a lot, and went to go pet my cat. A lot.

The take home here, other than Be Careful What You Ask For, is that this was my first experience of a sense of divine presence associated with a specific name, history, and personality. Oh, I’d done the thing where one rattles off god-names, thinking that all gods are one god, and had good results as far as that went. I’d even theorized that working with just one mythical god (instead of naming ten or twenty of them at once) might be good, due to tighter focus if nothing else.

But the idea that there were individual entities attached to these names was something that was only theoretical for me. Until I tried summoning Yog-Sothoth.

Don’t try this at home, kids.

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.


Customizing the Home

What customs are associated with the home and family in your tradition?

I always get a chuckle out of thinking about My Tradition, which pretty much is only “The stuff I remember to do more than once.”

But then, thinking about the home and family, there are a few things we regularly do:

On the 4th of July, we have a cookout, and a reading of the Declaration of Independence, and watch 1776. We invite people to join us, but everyone has plans on the 4th, so it’s often a small group.

For the winter solstice, we have a Pagan slumber party. We invite all our friends to join us for vigil from sunset to sunrise, singing up the sun. And if you’ve heard my sleep-deprived friends singing, you know why the sun gets up…

Also, we have a household ancestor altar. Just a picture or two, a vase of flowers, and candles. I make a small ritual of praying in thanks to the ancestors when I change the flowers.

It occurs to me that this is pretty much how more complex traditions get started, with each new generation adding to the list of household rites. So, check back in 100 years. If miraculous life extension technology allows me to still be blogging, I’ll get back to you.

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.


Answer Hazy, Try Again Later

Have you ever had dreams or visions sent by the divinities?

Well, I’m not sure, to be honest. My dreaming life has been mostly mundane, dominated by dreams of the sorting-out-emotions and processing-mental-debris variety. When I can remember my dreams at all, that is. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the gods aren’t in there, somewhere. Just that, if so, it’s usually so subtle I miss it.

Usually.

Recently I have been having periods of sleep in which I was fully conscious of being asleep, to the point of being aware of what the sheets feel like and from which angle I was drooling on the pillow, but also fully immersed in a dream. The significance here is that, for years, I’ve had a problem with trance/journey work. Awareness of my physical body has been distracting enough to disrupt my focus on the work, usually so much so that I’d end up just patiently sitting out the meditation time, trying not to get too frustrated with myself. I like to think, therefore, that these periods of being both dreaming and aware of the physical world are a kind of spirit-training, fixing the problem from the Other side.

I may just be having mundane sleep disturbances, I suppose. But I like my answer better, and maybe I am learning something, so I’ll stick with it.

One of the more recent of these involved having to carry the dessicated body of a dead woman down into some twisty catacombs and finding the right niche for her to rest in. And, to add to the strangeness, she was there, walking alongside me. This was one of the most real-seeming dreams I’ve ever had.

Talking to a Ghede, through a trusted medium, some time later, I was told that this was a working dream. That I was doing psychopomp duty, but that I shouldn’t expect it often, or read much into it. Sounds to me like the gods borrowing server time on my sleeping brain, if the computer metaphor doesn’t seem too odd in a mystical context.

There have been others, but they’ve been a bit vague, and I still get the feeling that they’re training simulations of some kind.

Still, I’m happy with it. I know people who have had far more complicated and bothersome dreams (follow the link below), and I’m grateful to have the ones I’ve got.

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.


Human Virtue

Does your religion help you to be a better human being?

To be honest, I’m not sure. It’s not like I’d be on a spree of rape, murder, and jaywalking without the gods. My moral code and reasons for behaving as a good person are thoroughly humanist, and would probably be much the same if I were not dedicated to anyone or even an atheist.

I’d probably be a Discworld atheist; the kind who wanders about muttering, “All gods are bastards,” and refusing to give them the satisfaction of feeling my belief. But I digress…

Mostly, the research I’ve done to ground my practice in ancient polytheism has also given me a wider lexicon of words and ideas for thinking about and defining my morality and ethics. Of course, any good study of classical philosophy would have done the same.

I’m a fan of virtue ethics, if you’re curious.

I do, however, consider how my friends see me, and whether or not they think I walk my talk. I include the gods and ancestors among these friends, and will occasionally ask them for advice. Sometimes they even answer.

If nothing else, my studies of ancient polytheism have taught me that the gods are not moral exemplars. “It was good enough for Zeus, it’s good enough for me. Now where did I put that swan suit…” is a bad basis for moral action.

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.


Dance Like No One’s Watching

How do you incorporate movement into your worship?

Movement hasn’t been a large part of my practice in recent years, and I think I need to change that.

I came into modern Paganism through Starhawk and Reclaiming-style witchcraft, and then British Traditional Wicca. In that style of Paganism, there’s a lot of moving around, starting with re-arranging the living room to make space for the night’s festivities. After that, it’s mostly walking the circle several times during the first parts of the ritual, stopping at the quarters to do things & stuff, circle dances complete with bruised shins from banging into the altar, leaping up for the fire extinguisher when the cat knocks over a candle…

My change from Wicca and Wicca-derived practice to a Polytheistic practice based more on Hellenic structures came at the same time as I started working less with groups, and more on my own. Ritual no longer required moving the couches aside. Mostly, it was a matter of pouring libations and praying at a shrine in my bedroom. Not much room for perambulations, but there was a narrow path past the foot of the bed for a simple procession from the ritual ablutions in the bathroom to the altar, and back again.

But I’ve noticed that I miss the motion. There’s something about including a somatic component to ritual that helps keep focus, and not just because one’s legs go to sleep if one stands still too long. I got a Murphy bed so that I could easily clear floorspace. Though I haven’t made use of that yet, I anticipate that pre-ritual furniture moving will help get the old juices flowing.

Another thing I would not have thought I’d miss was the dancing. I’m not much of a dancer. Oh, I can do a passable Goth-Boi Shuffle, and I’m pretty good with the High School Slow Dance, but that isn’t what I have in mind.

No, this is more like shutting myself away from possible lookers-on, putting the headphones in (no point in putting the housemates out), and just moving. At a concert at a con, I decided I would dance for Dionysos, even if I felt like a clumsy fool.

I clearly recall Him saying something like, “If you’re going to look like an idiot on the dance floor, best to look like a passionate idiot.”

I’m pretty sure it was said with love.

In any case, that felt good, and it felt like it pleased Him, so I should probably do more of that.

Just do me a favor, though, and don’t watch.

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


Happy Birthday, Life!

What does fertility mean to you?

Well… Not a lot. I mean, I could go on about it; I’m initiated into a Gardnerian-derived Wicca line, which is pretty much a fertility cult. (Though if anyone asks, you didn’t hear it from me.)

Also, Dionysos is the life of the vine, the force which brings the vine to flower and fruit, and the one who makes the hungry, hungry yeast eat sugar, piss alcohol, and make more yeast. So there’s a connection there.

But I just don’t feel it, you know? Come spring equinox, I don’t even get particularly excited about the chocolate, much less the spring. I’m much more into autumn.

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Wait… Someone’s Leading This Tradition?

What qualities should a leader in your tradition possess?

Sufficient stability and sanity so as to set a good example, but not so much of either that they’ll realize just what the hell they’re getting into.

It’s hard to say, since this tradition is just me, for the most part, and I’m not sure I have complete faith in the current leadership.

That said, I could list the virtues I’d want myself to have, to feel confident in my own leadership of whoever decides to follow me down this path:

A Strong Relationship With Dionysos: While I wouldn’t require proof of Mystic Woo Powers (and I’m not sure how one would prove it, in any case), I think a working relationship with Himself that involves an active ritual life, a deep understanding of the God and His ways of moving in the world, and the ability to reliably do divination so as to get advice and instructions from Him are all necessary things.

Scholarship: I am not a reconstructionist as such; I’m not looking for someone who can do a dissertation on Dionysos worship in the ancient world. However, I am trying to root my practices and my understanding in what ancient sources I can find. This is a modern practice for a modern Dionysos, but without a strong connection to the past, there’s no continuity.

Hospitality: So much of how I understand the relationship between gods and mortals is rooted in mutual hospitality that I don’t see how one could be a leader in this tradition without also knowing how to be a good host and a good guest. My view of what kind of role to take, when varies (I’ll do a post on hospitality soon), but a leader should be able to put themselves in the role of host to the God, host to the congregation in the God’s name, host to the congregation in their own right, and as a good guest who represents the God wherever they go.

Compassion: This is the worship of the God whose train includes the mad, the lost, and the broken. Being able to relate to the person, and not just their loudest (and possibly worst) qualities, is absolutely required of a leader. Leaders must be able to feel another’s pain and rage and fear, without judging it or taking it on themselves.

Boundaries: A complementary quality to both Hospitality and Compassion, a leader must be able to set boundaries for the good of the group and the good of the individuals in that group–including themself! A leader who allows themself to be swept up to such a degree that they can no longer differentiate between their own mood and the needs of the group or its members is helping no one.

This is especially important for a Dionysian. While there is a place for losing onself to passion, someone has to hold the space for others to do this. Someone has to minimize the risk so that others can let themselves go. Hopefully, there will be others who can do this, so no poor soul is stuck being the designated driver every time.

A Sense of Group Dynamics: Of the many bits of advice that Starhawk wrote into her first books, the bits that I think have aged the best are the ones which speak to a leading witch as someone who has to keep an eye on the relationships of the members of a group to each other. It’s easy to get caught up in the passion and the mysticism, but it’s even easier to not pay attention to seemingly mundane aspects of the group dynamic that can be as dangerous to the congregation as any malevolent spirit.

Logistic Fu: Scheduling isn’t easy. Neither is making sure there’s enough food and wine for everyone, making sure people who need rides have them, making sure that the ritual site is accessible to everyone, and the hundred other things that require someone to make a plan and see it carried out. While I’m not saying that a leader has to do all this themself (we’re all mad enough already), they at least have to make sure someone competent is doing it.

There are no doubt other qualities a leader should have. Some of them I probably take for granted, and so haven’t thought to list. Others I may have yet to learn. It’s an ongoing process.

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.


The To-Do List From… Somewhere

What devotional goals have you set for yourself?

Sadly, I’m much better at setting goals than at achieving them. This blog is a good example; I set myself a goal of posting something every Tuesday and Thursday, but, well…

I have five shrines set up, one for each of my main devotional relationships. The largest and most elaborate belongs to Dionysos, as one might expect. The others are for the God and Goddess of my initiatory line of Central Valley Wicca, the Vanir (primarily Freyja), Ghede, and Melek Ta’us. I feel that each of them deserves at least a brief daily prayer, just to keep the connection open.

For Dionysos, I want to devise a calendar of observances of the major events of His life, as related in His myths, timed to the local (Northern California) growing year for wine grapes. Also, I have held quarterly devotional parties for Him, and I want to continue that, though I may change the character of some of them. Further, I have a dream of starting a monthly devotional group, possibly leading to mystery initiations.

For the God and Goddess (they have proper names, but those are oathbound secrets), I’d like to have a more extensive prayer for full moons, and observances of the stations of the Wheel of the Year with my family–perhaps as small dinner parties.

Freyja has said she has things to teach me, so figuring out what those are and how to go about learning them is a priority for working with the Vanir. Of course, it’s rude to ignore what’s important to Her outside that learning, so I suppose there will have to be added prayers for her brother and parents, at least. I’m already a part-time attendee at our local Vanatru group.

The Ghede are a family of spirits, something akin to ascended ancestors, but more than that. My particular Ghede isn’t completely known to me. Ghede has many paths and many names, and the differences are important. I need to solidify that contact, and get better acquainted with him, before I can tell where to go with that devotion.

Melek Ta’us and I have an uneven relationship. We don’t always get along, and I have often regarded his behavior as unfair or at least callous. But He’s the Angel of tough love, the one who pushes boundaries and tests limits. Part drill sergeant, part drag queen. I’m coming to appreciate what He’s tried to teach me more, and I’m seeing that, when He’s used me to get to others, He did so in a way that made me larger. I want to study what I can of Yezidi practices pertaining to him, to respect his origins in a far land and a threatened culture.

You know, all this looks much more ambitious when it’s all written down in one place. The work I want to do for Dionysos alone would be enough for any sane devotee. However, he’s the Mad God, so I stagger on…

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.


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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