Image titled "Land of the Hare" by Amanda Clark. Find more of her stuff here.
13. Have you ever found it difficult to uphold your end of a bargain with the divinities?
I don't know how to answer this. Firstly, I don't think of myself as 'making bargains' with Deities. I am in a devotional relationship with my Gods, in service to Odin (among other things), and there is a necessary give and take of engagement that occurs regularly. I don't make bargains. I don't know that it's my place to do so.
I do, as both a devotee and a spiritworker occasionally receive binding taboos. Or sometimes in the course of my devotion through discernment, prayer, or direct experience I will come to know that the Gods wish me to do or not do something in my life from that point on. Do I have trouble upholding those commitments….no. Is it inconvenient and more than occasionally painful? Sometimes yes, absolutely. But that's the thing about commitments: upholding them shouldn't depend on the vagaries of convenience vs. inconvenience.
There is nothing that the Gods could ask of me that comes close to what I have been given and graced with over the course of this life and many others. There is nothing They could ask that would be *too much* to do. I may grumble and gripe, but that is the humanity of a moment; in the end, service is a joy and the opportunity to recommit again and again and again by keeping to my word, keeping to my commitments, and upholding the taboos and requirements that I have been given is also a joy. I don't, after all, place myself higher than what the Gods wish for me, and I value those relationships over and above anything else.
Friday night my partner and I went to see the new 300 movie. I'm a classicist with a particular interest in military narrative (and I love action films) and he's a Dionysian very well educated also in the Classics. We knew the movie wouldn't be accurate but having enjoyed the original "300", we hoped to enjoy this one as well and for the most part we did.
We knew going in that the writers would play hard and fast with actual history and boy did they ever! For one thing, very inventive back stories were created for all the major characters, including Artemisia. That actually didn't bother me *too* much partly because the entire movie is a story told by Queen Gorgo prior to leading Spartan soldiers in a battle of honor and vengeance at Salamis. What did bother me a bit (and it was the only thing that really irked me) was the need to sexualize Artemisia's character (Spoiler ahead, folks, so if you haven't seen the movie and intend to do so, you might want to skip the next bit. There's also some rather peppery language involved, for those sensitive to such things).
For the most part, her character was seriously bad ass. She was a hard as nails warrior and I really liked that. The real life Artemisia was also a hard as nails warrior, a phenomenal naval commander with the balls to ram and destroy her own ships in the heat of a battle gone wrong (so as to trick the Greeks into thinking she was fighting for them, long enough to escape and circle back in attack). She does not die at Salamis, another irritating inaccuracy of the movie, moreover, she does not fuck Themistocles on the eve of battle and then suddenly start pouting and pining for the following 45 minutes of the movie because he rejected her offer of alliance. Herodotus, who recounted her story had a thing about sex. Trust me, if this had happened, he would have written it down. As with Gods, this is why you don't get your historical information from comic books.
While I liked that the movie had two very strong female characters, both of whom fought equal to the men in battle, I didn't see the need to sexualize Artemisia in such a fashion. Was it not enough that she was a powerful opponent and antagonist? Apparently not. There was no point in fact, dramatically for the sex scene to have been included. It weakened her character. (Had the writers done it without changing her character after, I still probably would have been annoyed but not quite as much). It's as if a woman could not hold power in her own right without using her cunt.
Now, I know folks --contemporary polytheists-- who venerate the real Artemisia as an honored ancestor. While I found the movie irritating, one of them based just on what I wrote above, can't see it, feeling it would be disrespectful, impious, and wrong. So to counter the horrendous Marvel-Loki-fication of this mighty ancestress, I'm going to tell you a little about the real Artemisia.
The following section is drawn from a fairly long academic paper that I wrote last year. Over the next week or so, I'll be sharing the relevant stories from it, honoring the mighty queens, of which there are many - warriors all--mentioned in Herodotus (since he was a good story teller, and the paper happened to be written during a graduate course in Herodotus lol). These were mighty women and they deserve to be remembered in their own right, for their own deeds. So, let's begin with Artemisia. (Translations for all the Greek are given in the notes at the end).
Artemisia of Halicarnassus was a powerful female figure in Herodotus, renown for her military acumen. Artemisia is particularly interesting both as a native of the same province as Herodotus and as a Greek woman ruling and commanding Greeks and she dominates his account of the battle of Salamis, standing out as a powerfully dynamic and independent figure in a battle replete with dynamic military leaders.(1) Herodotus introduces her in book seven:
 τῶν μέν νυν ἄλλων οὐ παραμέμνημαι ταξιάρχων ὡς οὐκ ἀναγκαζόμενος, Ἀρτεμισίης δὲ τῆς μάλιστα θῶμα ποιεῦμαι ἐπὶ τὴν Ἑλλάδα στρατευσαμένης γυναικός· ἥτις ἀποθανόντος τοῦ ἀνδρὸς αὐτή τε ἔχουσα τὴν τυραννίδα καὶ παιδὸς ὑπάρχοντος νεηνίεω ὑπὸ λήματός τε καὶ ἀνδρηίης ἐστρατεύετο, οὐδεμιῆς οἱ ἐούσης ἀναγκαίης.  οὔνομα μὲν δὴ ἦν αὐτῇ Ἀρτεμισίη, θυγάτηρ δὲ ἦν Λυγδάμιος, γένος δὲ ἐξ Ἁλικαρνησσοῦ τὰ πρὸς πατρός, τὰ μητρόθεν δὲ Κρῆσσα. ἡγεμόνευε δὲ Ἁλικαρνησσέων τε καὶ Κῴων καὶ Νισυρίων τε καὶ Καλυδνίων, πέντε νέας παρεχομένη.  καὶ συναπάσης τῆς στρατιῆς, μετά γε τὰς Σιδωνίων, νέας εὐδοξοτάτας παρείχετο, πάντων τε τῶν συμμάχων γνώμας ἀρίστας βασιλέι ἀπεδέξατο.(2)
This is perhaps the most glowing description of a military commander in all of The Histories. Herodotus openly espouses admiration of Artemisia and in this passage the reader learns several key things about her: She is a ruler and military commander in her own right; her counsel is considered second to none which implies not only intelligence but a keen comprehension of politics, military strategy and battle tactics; she was under no compulsion to fight for Xerxes but did so for her own reasons, love of adventure, and pleasure; the five ships she contributed to the fight were well known and respected, and she fought with “manly courage.”(3)
Rosaria Munson in “Artemisia in Herodotus” points out that Artemisia embodied a certain paradox: “freedom in an ally of Xerxes and manly courage in a woman.”(4) Unlike most of Xerxes allies and advisors, she was in no way in thrall to the Persian king. She allied freely and fought with stunning valor. Herodotus’ own account plays with this gender inversion. When, during the battle of Salamis, the Greek forces routed the Persians and Artemisia, being pursued by the Greek naval commander Ameinias turned and rammed the ship of one of her allies, Xerxes is said to have exclaimed: οἱ μὲν ἄνδρες γεγόνασί μοι γυναῖκες, αἱ δὲ γυναῖκες ἄνδρες.(5) Artemisia not only showed a keen grasp of innovative battle tactics but earned further accolades and respect from Xerxes for this maneuver.(6)
It is as a military advisor, however, that Artemisia truly stands out. In book seven, chapters 67-69, Artemisia is the only one of Xerxes counselors to advise against attacking the Greeks at sea (he should have listened to her), rightly conjecturing that given the might of Greek naval power, the Persian forces would be routed which would severely impact the potential success of their forces on land. With some irony, Herodotus notes that Xerxes didn’t follow her advice, ἐπεὶ δὲ ἀνηνείχθησαν αἱ γνῶμαι ἐς Ξέρξην, κάρτα τε ἥσθη τῇ γνώμῃ τῇ Ἀρτεμισίης, καὶ νομίζων ἔτι πρότερον σπουδαίην εἶναι τότε πολλῷ μᾶλλον αἴνεε.(7) While Xerxes doesn’t listen to her before Salamis, afterwards, when she again counsels that he seek safety, leaving his general Mardonius behind with infantry, he does so though it is worth noting that he follows her advice only after consulting with Artemisia in private.(8)
Antonia Fraser makes much of Artemisia’s perspicacity and counsel, noting that she had, in effect, shown more talent to rule (particularly in war) than Xerxes.(9) Munson picks up this thread, positioning Artemisia as the Greek presence presiding over Xerxes’ failure at Salamis, a representation of “the straight male” ostensibly Greek “world, like a cultured Athena.”(10) Munson also notes that in her role of counselor and military advisor, Artemisia stands in striking parallel to the Athenian general Themistocles, most notably when they are both advising their respective peoples on what action to take prior to Salamis. (11) Both are excellent advisors and both, in their own way, are instrumental to the outcome of their respective military campaigns.(12)
While Artemisia may be numbered amongst Herodotus’ many thaumata, and while he does note that she is a woman of manly courage, after that initial commentary, her gender seems largely irrelevant to the battle account. Even Xerxes comment, highlighting some measure of gender inversion had less to do with Artemisia herself and more to do with the lack of success his men were having in the battle. Rather, Herodotus writes her as an exciting, almost dashing military figure and while scholars like Munson and Fraser have made much of the possible gender inversion in this particular story, at best such active narrative play of gender contrast and inversion seems to take a strongly second place to the telling of a good tale.
For more information on Artemisia and women warriors in the ancient world in general see the following resources.
Davis-Kimball, Jeannine, (2002). Warrior Women, NY, NY: Warner Books. Tyrrell, Blake Wm., (1984). Amazons: A Study in Athenian Mythmaking. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
“Sauro-Sarmatian Nomadic Women: New Gender Identities,” Jeanine Davis-Kimball, Journal of Indo-European Studies 25 (1997).
“Amazons, Priestesses, and Other Women of Status: Females in Eurasian Nomadic Societies,” Jeanine Davis-Kimball, Silk Road Art and Archaeology 5 (1997/98), Kamakura, Japan: Journal of the Institute of Silk Road Studies.
Dewald, Caroline and Marincola, John (2011). The Cambridge Companion to Herodotus, NY, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Biology and Politics: Women in Herodotus’ “Histories”, Carolyn Dewald, Pacific Coast Philology, Vol. 15 (Oct. 1980), pp. 11-18 published by Pacific Ancient and Modern Language Association.
Fraser, Antonia, (1988). The Warrior Queens: The Legends and the Lives of Women Who Have Led Their Nations in War, NY, NY: Vintage Books.
Herodotus and the Rhetoric of Otherness, Vivienne Gray, The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 116, No. 2 (Summer 1995), pp. 185-211. Published by The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Hartog, Francois, “Amazons: Difference and Inversion,” in The Mirror of Herodotus: The Representation of the Other in the Writing of History, translated by Janet Lloyd, 547-554 (Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 1988).
Herodotus. The Histories vol 1 and 2.1987. Translated by David Grene. Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press.
Herodotus. The Histories vol 1 and 2. 1927. Edited by Carolus Hude. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Herodotus. The Histories. 2008. Translated by Robin Waterfield. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
David, E. Jones, (1997). Women Warriors. Washington: Brassey’s.
No Woman No War: Women’s Participation in Ancient Greek Warfare by Pasi Loman Greece & Rome, Second Series, Vol. 51, No. 1 (Apr., 2004), pp. 34-54 published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of The Classical Association.
Artemisia in Herodotus by Rosaria Munson, Classical Antiquity, Vol. 7, No. 1 (April 1988), pp. 91-106 published by University of California Press.
Greek Attitudes towards Women: the Mythological Evidence, P. Walcot, Greece & Rome, Second Series, Vol. 31, No. 1 (Apr., 1984), pp. 37-47 published by Cambridge University press on behalf of The Classical Association.
12. What sort of festivals, memorials or seasonal observances do you keep throughout the year?
Oh Gods, my ritual calendar is a mess. LOL. I have to toggle between personal, household, and House Sankofa observances. I know as I type this now, that I'm going to miss at least one, probably more going through these.
Both personally and with the House, I keep eight seasonal festivals: winternights/samhain, Yule, Candlemas or Charming of the Plough (depending on who is attending the House rituals--it's usually far, far too cold for Charming of the Plough and we have several Brigid's folk in the House all of which means usually we default to Candlemas and incorporate some of the Charming of the Plough rites into the equinox rite instead), Spring Equinox (Eostre or Ostara), Walpurgis, Summer Solstice, Lammas, Autumnal Equinox.
Aside from that, there are several feast days for House sancti that we honor and of course monthly we gather for regular and ongoing ritual observance.
I personally observe certain rites and rituals seasonally for Odin and Loki, and given that my partner is Dionysian, as a household we keep the Deipnon and Noumenia, and as a multi-tradition House we incorporate several Hellenic and Dionysian festivals into our ritual calendar too, such as the Anthesteria.
Then there are anniversaries…in one of the traditions in which I am initiated, it is important to honor the Holy Powers on the anniversary of initiation. So that involves some ritual work as well.
Then of course there are the smaller daily rites that I keep for various Gods. Mostly I want to emphasize that outside of the seasonal rites, my ritual calendar both personally and House wise is somewhat flexible. I know for some people the seasonal work is a very important part of their practice but it never has been for me. It's nice and I specifically take pains to celebrate the seasonal rites but it does not impact my personal practice much either way. It seems that their purpose is far more for sustaining the community and reconnecting/refreshing their relationship with the Powers as well as reminding us of our obligations to the world. that's good and Gods know we need that, but it's a very, very different thing from the intensity of personal veneration.
My most recent article is now up at Pagan Square. It's called "Terms of Engagement" and discusses the nature of "tradition" and why some of us are called to defend it so fiercely.
Check it out here, folks.
11. What blocks to devotion have you had to overcome?
HAH! Myself, ever and always myself. Devotional work takes courage. Over and above everything else it takes a tremendous amount of courage. Courage is a difficult thing to cultivate. There is always the necessity to challenge yourself to be better, do more, go farther, to not turn back or take the lazy way, the fearful way, the way of old habits and truncated passions.
In our culture, including most especially within our religious communities where it should be the exact opposite, deep devotional work is looked at (at best) askance. There are many people talking about having an experience of Goddess X or God Y, but few actually *having* the kind that rip your world apart, fill you with laughing, sobbing ecstasy of the heart so great that the fabric of skin and bone and muscle we call 'body' is almost too small, far too small, to hold it. It shifts our perceptions. The moment we are slammed soul first into the presence of a God it changes everything. It starts a process whereby the structures and mores of post-modern world are revealed as the empty, hollow edifices of soul-binding decay that they are. it starts a process of internal revolution, liberation, and throws us into a cosmic dance whereby our passing through our world serves as herald and honor guard for the Gods who have thrust us forth. It is to stand before a blazing presence so all consuming that there is no place where the mewling deceptions of our egos can stand. Devotion is upheaval. It is homecoming. It is joy. It is celebration. It is a deep all consuming love but first, before any of that may be so, it is upheaval. No wonder people fear it so and avoid it, even when it holds precisely the provision they so crave in the hard locked corners of their hearts.
So yes, I have found that I myself have been the biggest block to my own devotional process. it takes time to learn to stand in the midst of such terror, such throat closing, heart constricting terror all the time as one's world is reworked. It takes courage to keep functioning while this is happening, to foreswear the luxury of choosing to crumble. It takes courage to endure until the waters have calmed and the sweetness of a new shore is upon us.
i have said before many times that if there is a blockage between a person and his or her God, the cause lies with the person not the Deity. i stand by that, moreover I have found that the deepest and most insidious blocks occur when we are unwilling to look with clarity at ourselves and our motivations, to acknowledge our fractures, and our avoidance. The biggest blockages come when we cling to what we are and have been rather than what the Gods know we can become. We are called to be so much more than what we think ourselves capable of being. in the end, the only thing stopping us is….we ourselves in the dance of devotion refusing to follow where the music might lead. We ourselves…it's always in the end, ourselves. The Gods do not block us. It is only we in our foolish pride that do so to Them. There's the worst blockage, of all the times when I have wanted to pound my feet into the ground and trash my fists and cover my ears and scream and rant like a petulant child in a tantrum rather than forging ahead where i knew inevitably I needed to go: we are ever and always the biggest obstacle in this work. Ever and always. In all we do, i've learned, it must begin with courage.
10. Have you encountered any obstacles as a result of your religion?
Well, my first response to this was 'yeah, my co-religionists." I've often found that Heathenry (and I warrant this would quite likely hold true in any contemporary religion) can be the biggest block toward developing a deeply engaged spirituality, Heathenry and other Pagans. Why you might ask? Well, firstly, there's everything that I wrote about in answer to question nine: the desire to avoid direct engagement, the patterning from birth religions that contain a deep suspicion around anything "mystical" or devotional, anything emotional or messy or not rigidly prescribed and controlled by textual authority. There's every bit of poison and corrosion that we've inherited from the protestant reformation, the scientific revolution (where science replaced the holy as "god"), and modernity in general and that's just a start. Really engaged spirituality is hard for us. We've no foundation for it, and very little support. More often than not it's pathologized and while I can stand up against that with a dismissive 'fuck you", not everyone can. I have seen blossoming spiritualties destroyed by the nonsense encountered in the community.
Then of course there is the dogged human centricity of the community, the unwillingness to accept the necessary inconvenience that sometimes comes with devotional work, the desire for rules and regulations and most of all a written text that can be fetishized in place of direct communion. All of this is antithetical to what our Heathen ancestors would have done, how they would have practiced, and all of it builds extremely bad habits, or reinforces unhealthy religious patterning already in existence. It's an uphill battle.
So for me, the biggest obstacle has been my fellow co-religionists. I tell people who contact me: trust the relationship you are building with your ancestors and with the Powers. Do not let anyone, not a single person no matter how well known in heathenry they may be, not even me pull you away from what your Gods and dead want. There can be a powerful push in Heathenry to cull and slaughter one's religious life, particularly one's interior practices to accommodate the small minded prejudices of middle America as seen through the Heathen lens. Resist that as you would any other type of mental and spiritual colonization. I believe it spells a potential death knell to the restoration of our traditions and it's something to be fought long and hard in the most secret places of one's soul if we at all value the mysteries and wisdom our Gods have to bestow. Stay the course. There may be other obstacles that arise -- in fact, it's almost sure that there will be--but this is the most grueling and most insidious.
9. How does your tradition handle wrathful, savage and destructive divinities?
Well, there's how the mainstream of my tradition handles Them and how I think the tradition teaches we ought to engage with Them and those are two very different things. I think that most people try to avoid what many might term 'savage' Deities and I think this is a mistake. This happens, of course not just in Heathenry but in pretty much every polytheism that I've encountered and it's a poison from our modern world, from growing up with the card board cut out image of anglo saxon jesus with his pretty golden curls who treats everyone as a shepherd would treat a baby lamb, from the influence of new ageism that teaches 'follow your bliss" without any other qualifier, and from a culture that has wholesale lost any sense of the holy and any sense of how to use difficult emotions for personal growth--we'd rather whip out the paxil prescription and medicate them away. We've also been patterned by two thousand years of Christianity to think in binaries: black/white, male/female, good/evil and when savage Deities arise it can be difficult for some not to class them as 'evil.' There's little sense in our culture of healthy destruction and with the Protestant Weltanschauung that has so permeated and formed the attitudes of so much of modern Heathenry, intensity in religious devotion, most especially with the Gods is also, sadly, viewed as something to be shunned. obviously I don't think that any of these attitudes actually stem from the tradition itself nor do i think they're particularly helpful or healthy.
I think that we are meant to venerate these Deities just as with any Others. That They may be difficult, frightening, or uncomfortable for us to engage with is no excuse not to do so. They keep us clean. They force us to face those fearful or damaged or dishonest or unrooted places within ourselves, to face them and deal with them bringing them into conscious engagement so that we might become better and healthier human beings. They force us to grow and evolve. They slam us unrelentingly into the intense vulnerability that is the key to effective devotional work. They lay us bare and this is good. We are all too often committed to our own facades and blockages. These Gods demand an honesty and integrity and a commitment to courage (oh so important to solid devotional work) like no Others. They make us strong. They demand that we step up and grow. They bring, believe it or not: liberation. They can free us of all the fetters of mind, heart, and spirit that keep us from deeply rooted devotion, that keep us from growing, that keep us from ourselves. They make us whole. The process can be terrifying and brutal, but They make us whole.
I think that our ancestors understood that the sacred and the terrifying always go hand in hand. As much as we might like to gloss over it with lovely rituals and devotional structures, in the end, it's in the trembling terror as the presence of these Deities cause our souls to burst the fetters we and others have placed on them wherein true wisdom is found.
8. What methods of inducing altered states of conscious does your tradition have?
Well, methods of inducing altered states are really just tools that any practitioner of any tradition may use. I don't think any one technique is going to work for everyone. That being said, however, and with the caveat that what constitutes lore is neither complete or without its bias, and looking just at the more commonly known lore we can suss out that sensory deprivation (going under the cloak) and ordeal were both used, as well as chanting and drumming. There's some evidence of herbal tools being utilized as well.
In my own practice, the tools and techniques I use run the gamut. I still think that prayer and meditation are essential foundational practices for this type of work. I mean, it's not enough to hit an altered state. That's not the goal. An altered state has a purpose: to do spirit work, to journey, to communicate more effectively with the Gods or spirits, to do *something*. It isn't an end in and of itself. To do that necessary work, there has to be a good foundation from which to move and prayer and meditation provide that foundation. Some people can hit the requisite altered states through those things alone.
Ritual, dance, music, drumming, chanting, singing -- all of these things can be powerfully inductive of an even deeper headspace. Depending on my mood, the Deities with Whom I'm hoping to engage, the work that needs to be done, etc. I have used all of these at one time or another. For long term work there was a point when I responded very, very well to ascetic practices like fasting and sensory deprivation, and of course for really deep, really intense work (usually with or for Odin), for me there is ordeal.
One thing that I recently realized is that I can slip very, very quickly and at will into an altered state (coming back to temporal consciousness isn't always quite as easy, I grant you). I thought that this was normal, that every spiritworker could do it, but apparently (as I've recently learned) that's not the case. A few weeks ago I was working with a colleague and we were exchanging knowledge. I had taught him something and he wanted to teach me a series of techniques that he found particularly effective for energy work. He asked me what I needed to get into an altered state and i took two breaths and did what Odin taught me to do: opened and slipped into the requisite headspace. My friend was visibly shocked. We talked about it afterwards and since then i've spoken to several other devotional laity as well as spiritworkers and apparently this is not something that everyone can do. It is specifically something that Odin trained me to do early on. It can be disorienting and sometimes painful but it's damned useful at times. Granted, it's much easier with time and tools to transition but they're not necessary for me. I like them though and in my regular work I often use ritual and galdr to facilitate light to medium altered states.
The important thing that i really want to emphasize here is that the altered state in itself is not the end goal. It's a means of doing something or getting somewhere, a tool of facilitating better communication.
This is just a general update about some of the projects I have going on and services I provide.
Firstly, we're organizing the Polytheist Leadership Conference in July. It's free so check out the site and maybe consider attending.
Secondly, I'm working on compiling a devotional to the God Charon for Bibliotheca Alexandrina. While submissions are more or less officially closed, I am still looking for essays and articles. Please contact me at krasskova at gmail.com if you're interested.
I have a couple new prayer cards in the works. Check them out here.
I also offer a number of services: divination, consultations, setting of lights, and artwork and other conjure stuff for sale.
In May I will be running both Combatting the Evil Eye and Developing a Devotional Practice online courses again. If i have enough interest, I may offer the Money Work: Dealing with the spirits of money course again too.
Finally, join us tomorrow night at 10pm EST/9C for Wyrd Ways Radio. We'll be speaking with Kemetic elder Rev. Tamara Siuda. Learn more here.
That's all for now, folks.