Tag Archives: practice

Gang Aft A-Gley

The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley–and also those of polytheists. For our August devotional, I’d planned for Thiasos Bakkheios to have a high-woo trance journey, so that each member could meet the god in person, and discover which aspect of Dionysos they most resonated with.

Well, no. Scheduling problems, on-the-job injuries, and just plain bad luck conspired to make it seriously uncertain who (if anyone) was going to be able to make it, and guaranteed that at least a few folks would not be in the right space for trance work. So, thought I, let’s just have a dinner party in his honor.

Dedicating the time and effort and resources to cooking up a fantastic spread for the god is one of my favorite forms of devotional work. Moving (dancing) about the kitchen, hands-on raw meat, fire on the stove… It gets me high, when mixed with thoughts of Himself.

So we had a feast. Beef, rare and not so rare, rubbed in a Greek spice mix. Mushrooms and bacon, sauteed in wine. Dates wrapped in bacon and roasted. Blackberries and raspberries, olives, bread with dipping plates of olive oil, vinegar, and parmesan. Joey, who changed his mind at the last minute and joined us despite his injury, brought chicken legs baked in bean and cheese sauce. And, of course, mead and wine.

 

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The chair at the head of the table was draped in leopard-print, and the that place at the table held his idol, and his plate and wineglass. Nearby were dishes for offerings to other beings, and the usual altar items were arranged as a centerpiece, around a vase of flowers.

 

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When the Thiasos gathered, we opened with thanks and offerings to the spirits of the ancestors and mighty dead, and then to the spirits of earth, sea, and sky. Without them, we would not be here. Without them, we would have nothing to offer.

Then came the prayers to the gods, first to Hestia (without whose flame, the gods would not receive their portion), and then to those beings who were and are Dionysos’ kin and companions, and then to Dionysos himself.

For Himself, we laid a full plate and a full glass, and invited him to join us at our table. No one doubted his presence.

And then to feast! There was much juggling of laden dish, attempting to pass things around without spilling or knocking over the candles and icons. Some business of the Thiasos was discussed, and also many matters mundane and spiritual. And, there was laughter and fellowship.

And Cards Against Humanity.

After we were all stuffed and had run out of more specifically Dionysian things to speak of, it was suggested that we play Cards Against Humanity. Not wishing to exclude the guest of honor, we dealt a hand for Dionysos, and evolved a way for him to play.

For those not familiar, Cards Against Humanity is essentially a trick-taking game, where one player gives the table a phrase with missing words, and the others “bid” cards with words to fill in the blanks. The first player to take ten tricks wins the game

We took turns speaking for Dionysos when it was his turn to give the phrase (the prhases were drawn from a deck), and the table voted on the bid we thought he would most likely pick as the winner. When it was someone else’s turn to give the phrase, that person drew the requisite cards from the god’s hand, at random.

For example, the god gave the phrase, “The Academy Award for _____ goes to _____.” The winning bid was, “The Academy Award for the miracle of childbirth goes to dying.” Someone was obviously playing to the judge, there.

 

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In a more playful example, the god drew, “For my next trick, I will pull ____ out of ___.” The winning bid was, “For my next trick, I will pull the female orgasm out of a tribe of warrior women.” Well, if anyone’s going to do it…

The god played passing well, taking five tricks. It seems, however, that he was not playing to win, but using the opportunity to shape the phrase into a message for someone at the table.

For Ember, the cards the god bid on her turn had a consistent theme, summed up in this bid:

 

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“When I was tripping on acid, overcompensation turned into being fabulous.” She took this string of messages to be advice to get out there and do her thing, even if she was afraid it would fall flat.

Dany didn’t get quite so coherent a message, but the god bid the card “Hope” to her several times. Given the dire economic and health problems she’s been facing, she took that as a good sign.

We closed with further prayer and thanks, and then cooperative clean-up. The clean up went well, though it’s easier when it’s one of those gatherings that did not involve tearing animals apart in ecstatic frenzy.

There was a lesson here for us, I think. The god manifests in our lives, sometimes in surprisingly mundane acts, when we make room for him. Life won’t always go as I hope, and this will impact the work of our devotional group. He’s saying that he’ll be there with us, even if we don’t end up doing what we had initially planned.

We had hope that he’d play cards with us, but we didn’t expect him to speak to us through them. I would not have expected Cards Against Humanity to be an oracular tool, but I’ll take what he gives me.


Field Trip to Cat’s Cradle

Last week, Thiasos Bakkheios and a friend took a field trip to Cat’s Cradle, a shrine in the redwood forest above the UC Santa Cruz campus. The idea was to get our hands dirty with some practical, physical work for the spirits and powers. Continue reading


Thiasos Bakkheios

I’ve started, together with half a dozen friends, a Dionysian devotional group I’m calling Thiasos Bakkheios. It means, roughly, “Folks who come together to perform rituals to Bakkhos.” I am no expert in any form of Greek, so if someone reading this can confirm that I’m using the words correctly, that would be great. Better, if I’m wrong, correct me.

The name was originally invented to fill in the “group name” blank when submitting a Dionysia for Pantheacon. As I’ve been missing regular, intense, small-group devotions in my life, I decided to open up my personal practice to friends and like-minded polytheists.

So far we’ve had two meetings, and are planning a field trip for later this month. We’ve gathered and opened by pouring libations and offering food to Hestia, to the spirits of the local land, to the ancestors, to the gods and spirits important in the life of Dionysos, and finally to Dionysos himself. Drumming and chanting and passing a cup of wine follows, and after that…

Well, it’s been interesting. The first meeting, we followed the ritual with a feast, where we drank and ate and drank and talked about what we wanted from the group and drank and got to know one another and drank… You get the picture. The session was most productive. Four bottles died in the enactment of our rites, and we made the best of their sacrifice.

The second meeting was an experiment in letting the energy go where it would. The opening invocations were much the same, but after we started talking about what kinds of ecstatic methods we’d like to explore. The group quickly lost any central focus, separating into a talking corner and a drumming/chanting corner and corner of enthusiastic cuddling. People had mixed experiences with this, and felt varying levels of comfort and inclusion.

There’s room in Dionysian worship for both intensely focused ritual and ritualized partying. But, being mortals with limits, I think that in future we need to be more mindful about which we’re engaging in. Given that the particular face of Dionysos to whom I most relate is Himself as the Host of the Revelry, there’s a strong emphasis on hospitality and taking care of my guests. As priest, I need to provide some sort of common focus, or make sure that everyone knows and understands ahead of time that lack of focus is the point of that evening.

I must admit to a certain reluctance here, though. Part of me wants to be The Guru, and I’m very wary of that bit of ego. So much so that I have, perhaps, erred too far in the other direction. I don’t like telling everyone what to do. Hell, I hope to help folks become skilled and comfortable leading these rites so that I can be one of the ones letting go. Still, someone has to point in a direction and poke everyone to go that way, and I suppose it should be me, at least at first.

That in mind, I do have a few goals for this group: First and foremost, I want to create a space wherein folks can deepen their relationships with Dionysos, where they can come together with like-minded folk and worship together. Beyond that, I’d like to have a solid team of devotees who are interested in putting on public rituals dedicated to Dionysos. Some years back, I was given in a dream a mystery initiation to share with others, and I hope that some of those who join us at the Thiasos will want to experience that.

If you’re interested in joining us, you can contact me through the comments or at lonsarver@gmail.com


Bedtime Prayers

I’ve done a number of things as part of a regular (or, more often, irregular) spiritual practice. One thing the powers keep telling me, though, is not to try to do everything all at once. Start simple, and build on that.

This has been especially reinforced by my recent (six months or so) onset of serious arthritis in my knees and pain in my hands. There are new limits on how much activity and energy I can spend on everything, and I’m having to learn to re-balance things.

So, here’s what I do, every (mostly) night: I pray. Standing before my altars, if I can; sitting or lying comfortably, if not. It’s simple, and I stay true to the form rather than the script. The prayer is no replacement for libations and offerings and other devotions. It’s more like the divine relations equivalent of a quick coffee with friends, just to keep in touch in between parties.

Hey, don’t knock the little things, yeah? Small pushes keep the wheel spinning, once you’ve cranked it up.

Oh my powers, great gods, ancestors, spirits of the land
I thank you for sharing this life with me

You, first and foremost, Dionysos
My lord, my love, my Bakkhos
I thank you for the joy and the rage and the ecstasy you bring out in me
I thank you, and offer you the hospitality of my heart and my home

You, Lady of the Moon and Lord of Death and Resurrection,
The springs from which the Kingstone Wicca flow
I thank you for accepting me into your family
I thank you, and offer you the hospitality of my heart and my home

You, Freya and Freyr, and all the Vanir kin
I thank you for the love you have brought me
I thank you for the lessons you share with me
I thank you, and offer you the hospitality of my heart and my home

You, Baron Brav LaCroix
I thank you for standing with me in the dark
I thank you for showing me the joy in fear
I thank you, and offer you the hospitality of my heart and my home

You, Melek Ta’us, Peacock Angel
Who showed me what it was like to open and let a god inside
I thank you for the hard lessons you have taught me
I thank you, and offer you the hospitality of my heart and my home

Ron, Teri, Merrill, Sanford, Virginia, Thelma, Alvis, Ruth
And all my ancestors of blood, and my ancestors of spirit
You who walked this Earth before me, and made my way easier thereby
You heroes and Mighty Dead
All you who left this world to me
I owe you a debt, and pay it to our mutual posterity
I thank you, and offer you the hospitality of my heart and my home

You spirits of Earth, Sea, and Sky
Spirits of the mountains and valleys, the fill and the wetlands
Spirits of creek and river and delta and the bay and the ocean
Spirits of sky and wind and fog and rain and the myriad lights of the heavens
All you who make and maintain the world
Thank you for allowing me to live within you.
I thank you, and offer you the hospitality of my heart and my home

Thank you, gods and powers
Thank you, and goodnight


Dionysios Devotional at Pantheacon 2016

So, the Pantheacon schedule is out now… And I’m on it!

My Dionysos Hestios devotional will be at 7:00 PM, Sunday night. If all goes well, I won’t be sick that weekend, and will be at Panthecon generally, not just wafting in for my own ritual on a cloud of cold medicine and devotional euphoria.

This will be an evolution of the devotional I led at last Pantheacon, likely with more drumming and dancing–the details aren’t final yet. More news as it happens.

If you’re going to be at Pantheacon 2016, I hope to see you there. Don’t hesitate to introduce yourself, but be warned that I may be thoroughly godsmacked.


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.


Melek Ta’us: Faith

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

Faith is a tricky subject; there are at least two things it can mean. You can have faith that something exists, even if you don’t have proof. This is what most people mean, or at least seem to mean, when they talk about religious faith.

Then there’s keeping faith with–keeping promises and commitments, fulfilling obligations, that sort of thing. This is where I’m a bad polytheist, or at least a sloppy one. I don’t (usually) have trouble with the first kind of faith, but I often have trouble with the second.

Part of the problem is that I don’t know much about Melek Ta’us except what I’ve learned in Feri classes. I’m not sure what to do, to keep faith. Most of the sources I’ve found so far are either generically Feri/Pagan, or very outdated (and often blatantly racist) studies of Yezidi religion.

I am doubtless over thinking it. Keep it simple, yeah?

—–
Ember’s doing it, too: Month of Written Devotion


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


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.

Continue reading


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