Tag Archives: Worship

Three Kinds of Ritual

After our last Dionysos devotional, Ember and I were talking about the kinds of devotionals we’ve hosted. So far, we’ve had the ecstatic ritual, with drinking and dancing and drumming, and the feast, with minimal ritual but much food and fellowship.

The thought we hand was that we should alternated between these and another kind, something more geared toward sharing lore and inspiration with one another. This kind of devotional would, I hope, better serve those of us who find inspiration in stories and conversation, and give us a more diverse set of approaches to Dionysos and his kin.

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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


A Prayer for the End of Equinox

Over on Kina’ani Tess Dawson has written A Prayer for the End of Equinox, calling for the renewal of the worship of the gods, laying foundations for the future.

John Beckett, over on Patheos, has a similar (if somewhat more pessimistic) sentiment in his essay, Something Bad Isn’t Coming, It’s Here. He speaks of the decline of American empire and the transformation of the “industrialized west” into something very different than what it was in the last century, and the need to lay foundations and traditions for the future.

I can get behind both of these thoughts. I don’t know what the future holds, but I know that what I do now helps shape it. We we owe a debt to the ancestors, and we repay it to posterity.


He Doesn’t Ask Much. Just Everything.

Have you ever found it difficult to uphold your end of a bargain with the divinities?

Well, yes. If I wanted to be glib, I’d say something like, “If these deals were easy to keep, they wouldn’t be worth much, would they?” But that wouldn’t be entirely true, and it would be a deflection, and I’m not in the mood for either of those right now.

Honestly, I don’t think I’m very good at keeping my bargains. I can’t be completely horrible at it, as neither my mortal friends nor the gods have written me off yet. It’s one of the reasons I’m uncomfortable asking them for things. Whatever my intentions in the moment, I don’t feel I can honestly promise that I’m good for it.

And, yet, they still talk to me. I’m not sure I understand it, on a deep level, but I’m cringingly grateful.

Yeah, hold on a moment. That’s not getting us anywhere, is it? I was prepared to go on like that for some time, despite not being of the right religion for self-flagellation.

Then I remembered something from my first post here:

I do not ask you for followers or students or temples full of worshipers. I ask you only for yourself, for my passion is for you.

and:

I am not worthy of you.

That is not for you to say. That judgment is mine alone.

This is a dialog between myself and Dionysos. His words are in italic. And they’re words I forget too often. He’s only asked one thing of me… Everything else have been goals I’ve set for myself. He’s only ever asked me for everything; all that I am, the good and the bad, the parts I like and the parts I don’t.

Yes, I often fall down on specific obligations, but that central bargain, the most important one of all…

I ask you only for yourself, for my passion is for you.

That one, I always keep.

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.


My Personal Festival Calendar

What sort of festivals, memorials or seasonal observances do you keep throughout the year?

Well, this is slightly embarrassing. I don’t feel like I’m a very devout polytheist, sometimes.

Let me give a little background: I’m very much a group-oriented person. This makes things occasionally difficult, because I’m also an introvert–but that’s not the point, here. The point is, I find it hard to keep a continuing solitary practice. Or, at least, I find it hard to keep anything that looks from the outside like a practice, if I don’t have a couple of other people to do it with. So, when asked what kind of festivals I keep, I’m afraid I look like a very bad polytheist, indeed.

When I was working with a Wiccan coven, I kept all the usual Sabbats. But when that coven fell apart, as they sometimes do, my active observance of overtly Pagan holidays fell off. Mind you, I was never sure what to do with holy days like Imbolc or Lammas at the best of times.

What I do keep, so far as seasonal or annual festivals, tend to be ones that coincide with mainstream holidays, and ones the rest of my family keep. The three big ones are Samhain, Yule, and the Fourth of July. They’re all observed with a low-key mix of secular and Pagan elements.

Samhain is the big one, for me personally. If I had the budget and the energy, I’d spend the last weekend of September transforming my house into something like the Addams Family house, and leave it that way until Thanksgiving. There’s something about the visceral inevitability of death that makes the plastic skulls and Styrofoam tombstones feel warm and comforting to me. It’s like dealing with existential terror by inviting the Reaper in for a beer and swapping stories about our kids.

It’s also a solid reminder that someday, I’ll be an Ancestor. I don’t know if I’ll ever live up to the “mighty” part of Mighty Dead, but I’ll go into the sunless lands none the less, and gladly take up my duty of griping into the ears of my descendants. Samhain reminds me that I am part of that chain of lives that makes up history, in a way that’s both elevating and humbling.

So on October 31, I pour a shot of rum for Ghede and a shot of bourbon for my southern ancestors, and spend a few moments in contemplation and prayer. Then, I put a cheesy horror flick on the TV to be interrupted every five minutes by the need to pay protection in sweets to keep the neighborhood child-ghouls in line.

Yule is different. I’m not, personally, into the trappings of Christmas. I’d do up a tree, because the lights are pretty in the dark, and leave it at that. However, my family is as into Christmas decorating as I am into Halloween, so I end up putting as much effort into wreaths and cheery, snowbound miniature villages (though I insist on adding Daleks to the scene) as I would into cobwebs and Jack-o-Lanterns.

That’s just the set decoration, though. The real observance is the solstice vigil, also known as the community slumber party (sans slumber). Fifteen or twenty of our friends gather at my place to stay up all night, telling stories and playing games. We light a candle at sunset, set a fire in the grate, hold a brief ritual of song and gratitudes at midnight, and sing up the sun at dawn. We burn the trunk of last year’s Yule tree in the morning fire.

It seems to work, as the sun keeps coming up. Though, to be fair, if a bunch of us sleep-deprived fools were singing Paganized Christmas carols of dubious poetic value while you were in bed, you’d get up, too.

See what I mean? I’m the only one who feels so strongly about Samhain, so there’s not a lot of ritual there. The family is into Yule, though, so we go the whole nine yards.

The Fourth of July may seem to some a strange day to keep as a holy day, but it makes sense in my mind. I regard the Founding Fathers (and the less famous but no less valuable Founding Mothers) as a sort of civic ancestors. I may not like everything they did–and there’s plenty to critique–but they shaped the world I was born into, and thus the person I am today. I owe them for helping make me who I am, and I repay that debt by keeping their memory alive. With an annual showing of the musical, 1776.

You, in the back row! I heard that!

Yes, well, it does play loosely with history. And some of the musical numbers come off a bit cheesy. But it’s the spirit of the thing, yeah?

Oh, we also read the Declaration of Independence aloud, and grouse at the lack of inclusion of women in the common story of the revolution, and complain bitterly about how recent generations have pissed away the legacy of our nation’s Mighty Dead. But, all that aside, it’s nice to be able to take a break from the cynical realities of life in the modern USA to remember the ideals of liberty and justice for all that are supposed to be guiding us.

Additionally, I host quarterly feasts for Dionysos. I spend the two or three days before cooking and cleaning, and then have twenty or thirty friends over for a Revel that lasts into the wee hours of the morning. We begin with an invocation to Dionysos, and a communion of grape mead I brew. After that, it’s all party. I’ve been hosting these for fifteen years, and they are, for me at least, deeply moving. Most everyone else enjoys them, but I don’t think everyone gets the same level of spiritual satisfaction from them that I do.

I’m also working on a calendar celebrating the major points in the life of Dionysos, keyed to the life cycle of the California vineyards, but that’s not quite ready yet. And, there’s that problem about being group oriented…

I ought to mention Pantheacon, as well. It’s an annual convention of Pagans, Heathens, Polytheists, Goddess worshipers, and other alternative religious folk. It’s the grand convocation in which two thousand of us gather in a San Jose hotel to worship together, discuss our faiths and practices, buy and sell our crafts, and generally hobnob and schmooze.

I’m also running a Dionysos devotional ritual this year, but more on that in a later post.

So that’s my festival calendar. I hadn’t realized it until just now, but it’s still eight festivals, just a little loosely joined, thematically. Still, it’s what means something to me, and while that’s not all that matters, it does count for a lot.

How about 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.


The Interview is Live

I’m interviewed by Rev. Gina Pond on her podcast, This Week in Heresy. We spent an hour talking about polytheism, theology, and the value of a shared human experience.

I think it came out rather well, for the most part. There are some odd pauses and I make far too many huffing sounds. Sorry about that, it’s what happens when my brain is moving faster than my mouth.

The direct link to the interview is here. Check out the rest of the episodes, it’s a good ‘cast. Gina talks to a diverse lot of people about the edges and margins of spiritual life, the places where people live and have their spiritual lives away from the mainstream of American religion.


The Other Half of the Story

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.

What offerings do you make in your tradition and why?

In ancient times, wine, olive or perfume oil, incense, grain, and food were popular offerings to make to the gods. So were livestock, massive public works, treasure, and (on rare occasions) spare human beings. As the livestock, public works, and treasure are currently beyond my means, and human sacrifice is looked down upon in polite society, I’ll stick to wine, oil, grain, and food. I live with scent-sensitive folks, so incense is also out.

But that’s not really the heart of the question, is it? As I’m reading it (and Galina can correct me if I’m reading it wrong), it’s about why and how particular things are offerings. If all you wanted was a list of things ancient folk sacrificed to their gods, you could read Wikipedia. Though you shouldn’t–you should comment here so that I may dispense wisdom.

Wisdom, or whatever. But I digress…

The answer to “why?” is deceptively simple. It’s all about hospitality; I am being a good host to the gods I’ve invited into my home, in hopes that when I’m in their domain (you know… Life), they’ll return the favor. The fancy sociological/anthropological term is “mutual obligation,” and it’s why some folks still respond to help or gifts with the phrase, “much obliged.”

I mean, they’re gods. We can’t force them to do anything, and it would be rude (at best) to try. It doesn’t go well for people who succeed in backing a god into a corner. Just ask Semele.

Semele was a princess of Thebes, mortal mother of Dionysos by Zeus. She talked Zeus into giving her anything she asked, and then asked to see him in his full, divine form. He was forced to do so, as he could not break his promise, and she was incinerated on the spot.

Sure, it worked out all right for her (eventually), but as much as I love my son, I don’t expect him to follow me into the underworld and carry me off to Olympus.

So we give them gifts, feed them and praise them. And, being (usually) honorable sorts, they return the favor. Usually. One of the things about polytheistic gods is that they aren’t all-knowing or all-powerful, so sometimes they can’t do right by us, as much as they might want to.

But the problem is–and having to admit this is why I’ve stalled so far with wit and mythology–I kind of suck at this part of the deal. Sometimes, my altars go neglected for days or weeks. Sometimes, I’m not good at fulfilling my promises.

Sometimes, I’m not the best host.

I’m better about it when operating in a group. When I’m hosting a devotional event, and I can see the reactions of other humans to the effort I’ve put forth, the desire to hear people oohing and aahing over the feast and the altar drive me to do it up right. Basically, I’m really good if I’m doing it for someone else who either really needs it or visibly appreciates it.

This makes things somewhat frustrating when I’m (trying to) do it for myself, or in hopes of some kind of delayed, perhaps only vaguely connected, response. I don’t do well with delayed gratification; my brain remembers the time the deals fall through much more clearly that the times things work well.

At any rate, I want to compose prayers and hymns of gratitude and praise. I want to give every power in my life lovely statues and little treasures for their altars. I want to pour out wine and whiskey and rum and drink to their health. It just kind of slips by, though, without some sign that they’re listening and appreciate what I’m doing for them. The altars don’t look any different until the dust gets really thick. I don’t hear rumbling in the bellies of my idols when the gods are hungry.

There is a school of thought that says we don’t do this for the rewards. We do this for them, whether or not we think we get anything tangible out of it, because that is how the relationship between gods and mortals works. I wish that kind of thinking was anything but despair-inducing for me. The thought, “Yes, I know it’s not all about me. But can’t it be just a little about me?” is very loud, some nights.

Which brings me back to the theme of my last post. Sometimes it feels as if this would all be so much easier with obvious, concrete signs from on high.

For whatever reason, the small magical moments like hearing that bit on the radio while writing the last post don’t stick. I can remember that they happened, but not how they felt. Like it happened to someone else. Memories of bad things, painful things, though are as clear and as visceral as if they were happening right now.

Did I mention I have flashbacks? No? Well, there you go, then. I have a vague sense that other people have flashbacks to good things more often than not, but I have no way to verify that.

When I stand in front of the altar, I don’t anticipate how good it will feel to be in contact with the god, or how affirming it is to do the ritual correctly. I flash back to how shameful it felt to do it wrong, how much it hurt the times I did it and felt nothing come back.

I don’t know. I haven’t figured this one out yet. I get that this is part of the work, but damn is that dark night dark.

Ember’s answer can be found at her blog, Embervoices.


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