It's particularly appropriate that this is my first article in French too---it was from a French city spirit (Paris) that I learned to engage and venerate them properly.
Those interested can find the article here. Just click on
This month I have an article translated into French and published in the ezine "Lune Bleu." My article is all about honoring the spirits of cities.
It's particularly appropriate that this is my first article in French too---it was from a French city spirit (Paris) that I learned to engage and venerate them properly.
Those interested can find the article here. Just click on
I am thinking of my adopted mom tonight. I found one of the travel journals that I kept the first time we went to Paris. I kept brief notes, not even vignettes really just the barest sketch of an experience to spur the memory. My mother was a memory keeper in so many ways and this particular passage made me recall that and how her very presence in a place opened people up to true mindfulness about what is really important in a life, and the impact of a life well lived. Here's the passage…crude, but i was not writing for publication (I go on a bit about food--my mom was teaching me about wine at this point and an appreciation of gourmet cuisine -- both cooking and eating it --was a joy shared between us).
Tonight we ate at Le Grand Vefour. It's located in the Palais Royale and while the Seine is my favorite place in Paris, the garden courtyard of Le Grand Vefour is quite likely my second favorite. The water spirits are so palpable here. I could feel them rippling and laughing underneath the dirt and i am no dowser! I could feel the water running beneath the earth and beneath my feet. It had lovely energy; and there were echoes of everything this place had ever been, and all the people who had walked there before.
The restaurant was a lot of show. The wine, a 2001 Savigny-les-Beaune Champs-Chevrey from Domaine Tollot-Beaut was excellent. It was well balanced with the food, had punch but no dark, expanding depths - just a bit of bite. It was pleasant. the food (lamb and veal) was good but not exceptionally so. I had fresh black truffles on a potato salad as an appetizer and while I far preferred Taillevent's sauteed truffles, fresh rock salt atop them really enhanced the flavors.I liked the raw tuna (actually it was very lightly seared or i'm tasting the high quality salt) amuse bouche the best. Dessert was ok but what i really liked were the candied figs and kiwi squares brought [also] as an amuse bouche.
The service, especially one waiter was incredibly good. I barely had to raise my eyes and he was there. Here is what I recall most about that night, and it still stuns me how quickly an epicurean delight shifted into something sacred, a moment out of time. My mom had been to that restaurant many times as a child - her family often traveled to Paris when she was small and when they ate out, they brought her as well. It was one of the ways she learned to appreciate food, wine, fine dining, etc. Because she'd been there so many times as a child, she had fond memories of a very well known sommelier--he had been kind to her when she was small. She inquired about him to the head waiter and that was when everything changed.
The entire staff - and i mean the entire staff--thronged about her when she mentioned she knew the sommelier - Monsieur Enoch (may he be hailed). He'd made a difference in her life. He was kind to a lonely child. He'd apparently left a similar impression on the staff. It was as though we'd fallen through a crack in the shifting eddies of time. Even waiters too young to ever have known him came to our table to pay their respects. Suddenly there was a sense of lineage. in a restaurant like this, serving as a waiter is a profession and respected. There is strict training and a sense of lineage. When I say that everyone working in the restaurant came to pay their respects to Monsieur Enoch, I mean everyone. She was their intermediary through which they paid respects to their ancestor, to their lineage, to every person who had served in their positions, in that restaurant before them. It was beautiful. It touched my mother deeply too. I think at that moment she realized that she's a part of the history of these places too, that she has left ripples in the streams of wyrd, that like Monsieur Enoch, there are people and places better because of her. For me, I watched this ancestor reverence and could almost sense Monsieur Enoch's spirit present in that place. I realized how simply being a decent human being, showing kindness in unexpected places, ripples through generations. This man was kind to a lonely child and she remembered him fifty years later and because she remembered him she was able to bring those who followed in his footsteps into momentary communion with his memory as an honored ancestor. If that is not holy work i don't know what is.
(the picture here is from this article about Le Grand Vefour).
As promised, I'm posting a few pictures from my household's Anthesteria celebration. My partner is Dionysian so in addition to the regular Heathen holy tides, we also celebrate some Hellenic ones, most especially those sacred to Dionysos. The past three days were a very important festival, the Anthesteria. For those who may want to learn a little bit about this festival, you can find useful info here. My own comments will be brief.
We began on Monday, visiting each of the local graveyards and pouring out wine to the dead. This is both a celebration of new wine, and a time to honor and remember the dead. There are five cemeteries that I routinely tend relatively equidistant from my home. A House member and friend drove us to each after which we had a lovely dinner with two House members at a local Greek diner.
This is one of the cemeteries we visited, one of my favorites. I didn't take pictures Monday night---it didn't feel right to do so during the ritual so this is a pic. that I took last summer instead.
We did not stint on our offerings. Here is Sannion juggling wine bottles before we go to dinner.
The second day was especially intense. So much about this festival seems to be about purification and cleaning oneself out emotionally, spiritually, on every level. One of the more unusual things that we did was to honor Erigone, beloved of Dionysos. My god daughter was visiting so we all went to the local part. The swings were meant for small children so she swung (as is traditional for Erigone) and then we hung these creepy yarn dolls on one of the trees.
Here is the small altar that we created in honor of Dionysos for the Anthesteria.
Here is the shrine as we adapted it for day two. Sannion is making a series of Dionysian talismans with the stones.
Tonight was the final night of Anthesteria and shortly before sitting down to write this post, I completed the final ritual act to close the festival for our house. I made a porridge of barley, three other types of flour, beans, sesame seeds, and honey which I gave to Hermes, to our household ancestors, the Dionysian dead, and then also poured outside for the general wandering dead. I also set out wine. What I find so interesting about this is that at the winter solstice, in traditional Lithuanian polytheism, a very, very similar dish is made for the ancestors too! What's more, a couple of months ago, I had a few House Sankofa folks here and we were about to settle into a ritual when my friend Gwen showed up looking dazed. She was carrying a casserole dish in a pattern that looked vaguely baltic. She said that my ancestors would not stop bothering her until she bought it for me. I had no idea why (I like to cook and have casserole dishes galore) but i thanked her, feeling slightly mortified at someone being badgered by my ancestors (she was good natured about it and gets the ancestor thing, as she honors her own dead too) and put the covered dish on my ancestor shrine. I figured they'd eventually tell me what they wanted it for. Tonight they did. Apparently it's for this specific ancestor dish. So here is a picture of that, and of part of my ancestor shrine, the shelf right above the dish. I decided to post the second photo because it shows some of the tokens I keep for my Lithuanian dead.
Finally there is Dionysos, may He ever and always be hailed. He has been kind to a Northern stranger and has poured His blessings onto my house. Io Evohe.
My friend and colleague Raven Kaldera recently did some renovations to his home and part of that involved creating a single shrine room, to house most of his shrines (not all but most). We met up this past weekend and he excitedly shared some photos of a few of his newly situated shrines. I thought I would share those pictures with you all here (with his permission). I like looking at shrine pics and often find great inspiration in seeing how others navigate the issue of space and the sacred.
Here are the photos he sent, and beneath each a blurb he provided talking about each one.
Raven writes: "
I've received another submission for the Hera agon. Folks, this will run until the penultimate day in February. Those of you who want to submit, you still have a couple of weeks. In the meantime, check out this latest submission. :)
for the Agon
by Kyria Skotas
By sky's expanse, the Queen's domain,
where heavens fall, like rain to earth
with sweetest milk across the vast and thirsting soil.
By mound and hill and valley's stretch,
from peaks she calls, upon the wind,
her lips drip heavy, honey-thick, with every word.
By heavens vast, the Queen's embrace,
her arms she settles upon the earth,
lonely Mother - eternal, true - descends once more, her foot to soil.
Don Frew recently wrote an article about Wiccans and interfaith work and again trotted out the old adage that polytheists just don't show up for this kind of work so why are we blathering about Wiccan privilege when it really doesn't exist and yet again i have to cry bullshit.
We show up. We show up and are confronted not only with Wiccan privilege, but with an interfaith setting in which the default paradigm to which we are all expected to bow our heads in tacit compliance is a monotheistic one, or at best monist or pantheistic. This may be fine for many Wiccans. I've noticed that many Wiccans and Pagans don't' seem to believe in the Gods anyway as independent beings, but it's not for us. For us, that is impiety. For us to comply even by our silence with such an attitude of "all gods are one" is to collaborate in the further destruction of our traditions.
Moreover, I can't help but question Frew's motives for writing this piece. It seems to me, like so much of what has gone up on Patheos recently, to be a subtle dig at polytheists, a passive aggressive way of staking out territory in the recent debate on polytheism vs. paganism. He is in effect saying that polytheists are irrelevant in the greater scope of interfaith work. Again, I cry bullshit. We fight an uphill battle in an interfaith setting and Sannion has given a pretty good account of what many of us face every time we venture out to do the work in his article here.
For the record, I was dean of second year students at the New Seminary, the oldest interfaith seminary in the US for a year - the only polytheist to hold such a position. It was eye opening. There's a complete lack of comprehension of the sacred in most interfaith settings and a complete pandering to the lowest common spiritual denominator. It's all about the human component and not about the Gods. The Gods play little part there. For all the talk about unity and collaboration, the interfaith community has no idea what to do with polytheists nor I suspect with anyone of any faith having direct experience with their Gods.
Also for the record, I am hardly the only polytheist engaged in interfaith work. P.S. V. Lupus, World Council of Ethnic Religions, Tamara Siuda, Anomalous Thracian, Allyson Szabo, Rogue Priest, and many more than I have the time to name here.
You want to see a polytheistic in an interfaith setting? Let's look at the late Jonas Trinkunas. This man not only worked with the World Congress of Ethnic Religions, but *while fighting Soviet rule* restored his indigenous polytheistic faith to active worldwide practice. So I don't want to hear this tired rede about polytheists not being active in interfaith practice. We're plenty active; it's that our deeds get consciously erased by Wiccans and Pagans who would prefer to believe that all Gods are one, lest their spirituality actually contain the spark of actual devotion or challenge. We're plenty active and we challenge the interfaith community to live up to their ideals. I don't think they like that. it's far easier after all to believe everyone is the same as you, but the real test of interfaith values is how you treat people with whom you have nothing in common but a supposed commitment to your faith.
Living in a mixed household now, I don't just keep Norse festivals but Hellenic, and particularly Dionysian festivals as well. Tonight Sannion and I celebrated the first night of the Anthesteria. We went out and gave wine to the dead.
So i'm currently reading this book by C. Spretnak called "Missing Mary." It discusses the erasure of Mary as Queen of Heaven from post-Vatican II Catholic theology and all the reasons that this has diminished Catholic spirituality and devotion. I had picked the book up on a whim and was horrified to realize that the position of Mary had ever been threatened--I well remember my grandmother's deep and abiding devotion to Her and what a central facet of Catholic thought Mary Mother of God had held when I was growing up. Reading about Her erasure, partly to ensure the comfort of Protestant Christians (ostensibly creating a better bridge toward bringing them back into the Catholic fold) and partly in response to feminism (yet again highlighting why i have such disdain for it---let's diminish the Queen of heaven to the status of 'sister' and regular 'woman' rather than maintaining a devotional model that might challenge us out of our own mediocrity. Good call, ladies. Good call *sarcasm*) i realized that the attack on Mary was an attack on devotional engagement and the by-word 'modernity' merely an excuse to strip the sacred from the Church. That was when it hit me: how like contemporary Paganism.
Within modern Paganisms we have a culture in which devotion is attacked and mediocrity is raised to the level of something to be emulated. Just this week a well known humanist pagan blogger admitted that he didn't want to engage with the Gods:
"Do I really want to have this experience? Do I want to experience the gods this way, the way that devotional polytheists describe, as persons, as historical deities?
And the answer that I came up with was “No.”"
Yet he persists in calling himself Pagan and even Polytheist on occasion, always qualifying it with terms like Jungian or Humanist. While others are busy praising him for this, I find it incredibly sad. Personally I don't care one bit about what this person or any other does in their devotional life, but this opinion unfortunately (for them) represents a fairly sizable chunk of paganism. We have a religious movement, a body of religions, whatever you want to call it that would rather indulge their own mundanity and spiritual mediocrity than stretch themselves open to embrace the Gods. They'd rather play and psychologize than engage in heart felt offerings. They would, as I have long accused contemporary Heathenry, rather center their rites and rituals around indulgence of human failing than center them around the Gods and risk actual contact.
The sacred is not comfortable. It is fucking terrifying and it can tear your life apart. It can and should and likely will shatter the happy little lens through which we were raised to view the world, tearing at one's well held paradigms and comforts until one has no choice but to stand in opposition to the order that we so smugly deify as 'modernity' and 'progress.'
I was having a conversation with Julian Betkowski recently and he summed it up nicely and i quote him here with permission. We were discussing amongst other things, a couple of recent articles over at patheos and how they reflect the shallowness of contemporary Paganism. Speaking of John Halstead's approach specifically, Julian noted succinctly:
"He has repeatedly framed Paganism and spirituality in general as an entirely passive, separate experience. There is no room in his theologizing for people who are moved to action by their spirituality, or who feel their religion as actively engaged in the world. Halstead repeatedly argues for the mediocrity of suburban America. If your spirituality confuses or threatens you, then ignore it and re-entrench behind your Modern Capitalist values. Words only mean things when it's convenient for you, otherwise you can feel free to strip people of their identities because you want to feel special. It's disturbing that he and people like him are actively engaged in the dilution of Paganism. Once upon a time, being Pagan meant being engaged in the world. I fear that Paganism has lost its way and that we are just becoming another neutralized subculture."
Paganism has not only lost its way, it's lost it's engagement with the Gods.
When Sannion and I had our "tea time" with John Halstead, it almost ground to a screeching halt before it ever began. Halstead rather insistently kept urging us to tell him something about ourselves that was in no way related to the Gods or to our polytheism. We couldn't. I finally stepped in and broke it down: we exist solely in devotional relationship to our Gods. That informs every single thing we do no matter how mundane it might seem, it informs every relationship, and every choice. There *is* nothing in our life unrelated to our Gods, our devotion, or our polytheism and it has made our lives richer in every way. We've spent the many years culling anything that would interfere or simply not support our devotional lives. This is the biggest gulf between humanist/atheist/jungian/non-deity centric Pagans and polytheists, especially devotional polytheists.
I remember years and years ago I was invited to participate in a COG day long workshop on interfaith dialogue. I was one of the token polytheists. Michael York and M. Macha Nightmare were present (possibly hosting--i don't recall) and it took place in Amherst. Throughout the conference it became glaringly clear to me, that I and the other polytheist (a Hellenic woman devoted to Aphrodite) had absolutely nothing in common with the Pagans there. The Gods played almost no part in their theology. It was only when York stood up at one of the discussions, spouting some inane drivel about how the Gods don't really exist and are at best archetypal that I realized what it was. The Aphrodite's woman beat me to the punch, standing up and pointing out that this was an impious attitude for us, and so long as we were expected to agree that our Gods weren't real, so long as we were expected to engage in rituals and discussions with that as the dominant view, we'd get no where. This was precisely where dialogue broke down with polytheists. We very much know that the Gods are real and have Their personhood and we aren't going to collaborate in any way with saying or acting to the contrary. Monotheism already did that when it destroyed our traditions the first time around. We don't need to help it farther along now.
I was reminded of this a few years later when i was teaching at a local interfaith seminary. One student was quite bothered by my polytheism, especially when I pointed out that I do not believe all Gods are one and all Goddesses one. She asked a bit about my practice and something - i forget what- came up and I said 'i wouldn't' do that. i'd be violating my religious taboos." she asked me how i could maintain that, given that I was an interfaith minister and didn't it violate the spirit of interfaith and make people uncomfortable to not accept every possible religious approach. I had the lovely moment of informing her that my Gods and spirits are more important to me than any human being on this planet and clean service to them even more so than that. In no way shape or form would i *ever* prioritize making any group of people comfortable if it meant showing disrespect to my Gods. She was boggled. and so are most Pagans. Why? Because the Gods aren't real to them. They have little to no direct experience and saddest of all *many don't want it*. Their own humanity is at the center of their spiritual endeavors.
And that is largely why contemporary Paganism is pointless at best and poison at worst. That is why more and more devotional polytheists what nothing of it. Yet the Pagans come and co opt knowing that we have found something precious, wanting the gifts and the treasures of a devotionally centered life for themselves without the sacrifices or hard work. Sadly for them, it is not for us to give meaning to their paucity of practice. In a way I was heartened --as crazy as that sounds -- to discover that Catholicism is fighting this self-same battle against shallow mediocrity and self indulgence. …all under the name of modernity and advancement, all by people who like the 'idea' of Gods far better than the reality. It tells me this isn't just a pagan thing. This is a sickness of the modern age.
Our ancestors were proud people. Polytheisms initially developed in some of the most civilized and cultured places on earth. Polytheism birthed art, culture, philosophy, and a worldview that had at its core a fierce diversity of expression. Suburban mediocrity er…modernity comes from a very particular type of Protestant Christianity and has at its core the erasure of meaning, the erasure of passion, the erasure of messy experience, devotion, and scary engagement. Why on earth, Catholics, would you pander to that? And why on earth are Pagans doing it too? I have a modest proposal of my own for the non-theistic pagans out there: instead of playing around with the idea and bywords of devotion, why not give the real thing a try. You might be surprised.
Tonight's Odin oracle will be post-poned until March 9. I received one question and it's an entire ritual process to get into the right headspace for this so with only one question I did divination and received permission to postpone.
The oracle will occur on March 9. any questions should be sent to me before 9pm EST on March 8.
Knowing I like to post pictures of pretty altars, my friend Raven sent me this picture of his Sunna altar. Sunna is the Norse Sun Goddess and Raven had this to say about Her shrine: