“Divination, then, more than any other religious act, confirms not only that the gods exist, but that they pay attention to us.”
--Sarah Iles Johnston
(Photo by Mary Ann Glass).
I am currently working on an article about Mani for my next Witches and Pagans column. I love our moon God and find Him extraordinary and a delight to honor. I wish that there were more people celebrating Him and I wish that there were more written about Him! :)
So I figured I would do with Mani what I did with Odin a month or two ago: open things up to questions from my readers.
I love Mani dearly and I've honored Him for years and years. I maintain a shrine and an altar to Him, venerate Him in House rituals several times a year, will soon oracle for Him, and carry Him via possession at least once a year. I've written a devotional for Him and really, really want to do another in the near future. Over the past few years I've had the pleasure of seeing His cultus expand as more and more people fall in love with the Moon.
So, post your questions here or send them to me at krasskova at gmail.com (or tamyris at earthlink.net though gmail is somewhat more reliable) and I will happily answer them either in this article that I'm working on now, or in upcoming posts.
I'll answer them to the best of my ability from both available scholarship and my personal experience and if i don't know the answer, i'll say so and try to suggest where you might go to find what you need.
In scrolling through the various blogs that I generally read as a matter of course, I came across a comment (from a non-theistic pagan of course) asserting that the primary purpose of ritual was 'to experience a sense of community.' Of course I disagree, as I suspect would many of my polytheistic colleagues but since ritual can surely provide a sense of community feeling, I wanted to clarify why I found the statement troubling. I'm not going to go into a discussion of what ritual is, or how to construct one, or what its constituent parts might be though I have the formal training in ritual studies to do so. It's not important to this discussion. Instead, I'm going to focus on what, to a devotional polytheist, the purpose of ritual might be. Then, I'm going to share a brief outline of a typical House Sankofa ritual to give you some idea of what I get up to in my community ritual work.
Firstly, that a ritual can bring about a sense of community is a side effect. It's not the purpose of a ritual. To stop there, is like stopping a six course dinner before reaching the main course. It's a by-product, nothing more, of a well run public ritual. (I specify public, because there are individual and personal rituals as well that do not involve any other members of one's community). Of course it is a joy and a comfort to find oneself in the presence of like-minded folks, all the more so when you're all collectively paying homage to the holy. This goes without saying. It is not, however, the purpose of a ritual, not to a polytheist. You see, this comes down again to where one puts the locus of one's devotional focus: on the self (non-theistic pagans) or on the Gods (polytheists). While there are rituals that can bring a tremendous amount of healing to all involved, I've never been a fan of ritual as therapy, ritual as self-help, ritual as entertainment, or ritual as social club. I would like to think that as a species we're not that self-absorbed. Clearly though, I'm an optimist.
There are rituals where the focus of the ritual is the transition of a person from one state of being to another. Coming of age ceremonies are a perfect example. I would personally not call such services 'ritual,' but might refer to them as 'ceremonies' instead though this is parsing semiotics at this point. Suffice it to say that when I talk about ritual in this article, I'm referring to a basic ritual in which the Holy Powers are in some way invoked. The word itself comes from the latin and refers specifically to religious customs and sacred rites. Durkheim be damned, those of us who actually honor the Gods believe that there is more to religion than social mummery.
For a devotional polytheist, the purpose, first and foremost, of a ritual is paying homage to, honoring, and expressing veneration for the Holy Powers (Gods and/or ancestors). That it can be done in a community or at least group setting lends power to the rite and is in itself a joy. Ideally, one's religious expression in ritual is the culmination of all the devotion and practices that one has engaged in by oneself. Throughout, the point of one's attention and mindfulness is on the Powers.
When someone asks me how to create a ritual, that is what I tell them: every thing you do or say should in some way honor the Holy Powers. Social hour can come after the ritual, during potluck. I once had a colleague tell me about a ritual she attended where the facilitator stopped in the middle to chat with a friend about how much she wanted to travel to London. I"ve seen people complain when rituals took more than 10 or 15 minutes and when they weren't allowed a share in the offerings given to the Gods and/or dead. I've seen interfaith rituals where no specific Holy Powers were ever once invoked. I once saw a woman start filing her nails during an invocation. To all of this, i say no. that is not appropriate ritual behavior. Save it for social hour, folks. From the moment the space is consecrated and ritual begins, the focus is on the Gods and/or ancestors.
It's for this reason that while i've seen, participated in, and even led lovely rituals that incorporated activities, meditations, ritual drama, etc. in the past, more and more I'm coming to favor simple offertory rites. I wouldn't necessarily exclude those other tools and techniques, because they can be quite powerful and effective, but when it comes to teaching people that stepping into ritual space carries with it a necessary corollary of turning one's mind and attention firmly on the Gods, I find that the simpler rites are best. There is still beauty and there is still drama, but it's much easier for a newcomer to see where the appropriate focal point might be.
To highlight what I mean here, I what to share an outline of a basic House Sankofa ritual. This is a format that we generally adapt as needed. Sometimes we get more elaborate, sometimes less but this structure has served us well. This will give readers some idea of what i'm talking about in the above article and it's what we've found works best for us, blended House that we are.
Preparation for ritual usually starts one week, sometimes two (occasionally more) before the actual day of the ritual itself. The night before, the space will be thoroughly cleaned physically and energetically. An altar will be set up, usually on the floor. Sometimes we raise them up and use an altar table, but our House tends to follow the custom of setting up the altars on the floor. We usually don't complete the altar the night before. An altar is an invocation, a living welcome to the Deities involved so we complete that welcome right before the ritual when the last items and offerings will be placed. Divination is done to confirm that so far, everything is pleasing to the Powers involved and that no different or further offerings than what has been planned are desired.
People usually start gathering an hour before ritual. I usually ask that folks bring whatever they wish to offer (I almost always provide a list of appropriate and /or traditional offerings a week or so before the rite) and something for potluck. Offerings are organized and placed where they need to be. We might talk a little bit about the Deity or Deities behind honored, and if there's anything that people want to add to the altar, they do so at this time. In many cases, I will divine again to make sure that what we are doing is pleasing to the Deity or Deities in question, that nothing more is needed, and that we are good to proceed.
Before we start, I or whoever is leading will go over the order of the rite, what is going to happen, when, and what people can expect. If there are any taboos associated with the God or Gods behind honored they are shared with those gathered then. Then I call folks into the space and begin by consecrating the space. We have now entered ritual time and space.
* An offering is given to the Powers that guard the roads of both blessing and misfortune.
* Offerings are given to the ancestors along with prayers.
* The Deity or Deities being honored are invoked. Many prayers are given by various folks in attendance honoring Them.
* Offerings are made.
* Usually there is a chant or galdr or something and during this time, people may go up to the altar and make personal petitions, prayers, speak private words before the image of the Gods, etc. The chant honors the Deities but also creates interference so that no one else can hear what each devotee might be saying to the Powers
* More offerings are made. If there is anything special going on in this particular ritual, it usually happens here.
* If it is a Norse ritual, a horn might at this point be passed.
* At this point there is usually either another long prayer, or a call and response.
* Special petitions may be made.
*the Gods and ancestors are thanked.
At that point, we close ritual space and move into another room for potluck and socializing. Some people usually want to spend more time by the altar communing with the Gods and they are free to do so.I or another diviner in the House will then do divination to make sure that the ritual was acceptable, the offerings were acceptable, and that it is right and proper to conclude the rite. Our rituals take about an hour and a half to two hours usually from start to finish. Ancestor rituals tend to run a bit longer. There are exceptions to this order of ceremony and what i've described here is a generic structure, a flexible structure that we often alter to accommodate various Deities or as need dictates.
I would love to hear how those of you reading this structure your rituals. I'd also be happy to answer any questions folks may have on this topic.
(photo by Mary Ann Glass)
There will be an Odin oracle on July 9. (I have not oracled for May and June...I do divination prior to preparation for the oracle work, to make sure everything is a go, and each time, via divination I was instructed not to do it. Given that I have just come out of an intense initiatory period this was not surprising. I"m hoping and fairly confident that July will be a go lol). I will, however, not be on facebook or updating any of my blogs for July so folks should email me privately at tamyris at earthlink.net if you have any questions to put to Odin. I will be checking email.
Well, folks, I just got back from co-presenting at the 2013 Philadelphia trans-health conference and had a wonderful time. I was giving a workshop (with Rev. Lynn Walker) on "Transgressing Gender in Contemporary Polytheisms." It went very well. Lynn is a medievalist and I"m a classicist and this time we actually managed to make it into the 21st century. LOL We had a pretty large group of people including several Heathens and a Lokean, and even a Lukumi practitioner. I really enjoyed giving this workshop and we're thinking about submitting proposals for at least one more (in addition to this one) next year.
We started out by laying a very simple white altar for the ancestors (so called, because it starts with very large white cloth and quite often includes white flowers and white candles). There were four candles (two white, two rainbow), four bowls of water as offerings, as well as bread, and tobacco. I kept it very simple on purpose to show how very easy it is to get started in this type of work. We began by making offerings and hailing not just our own personal dead but specifically the transgender dead, those whose bones and bodies many of the people attending the conference were standing upon, as we all stand upon the bones and shoulders of our dead.
In addition to discussing gender and sexuality in both ancient polytheisms and contemporary polytheisms and Paganisms, (and contemporary controversies) we discussed holding rituals to honor the trans-gender dead on the Trans-gender Day of Remembrance and how this, despite all the differences that any one community can hold, can be a unifying practice for a community of disparate people and allies. We spoke about how honoring the ancestors, both of blood and of lineage, of connecting to their experiences and strength could support and strengthen us in our work. we talked about the fact that the paradigm we confront now, the worldview that is obsessed with binaries and that collapses everything into one or two neatly defined categories, excluding as abnormal anything that doesn't fit those narrow divisions was not always the dominant paradigm. Things were not always as they are now. Our Gods and ancestors know this. And because things were not always so, this tells us that the current filter is not the only option, is not the only way things *have* to be. It tells us that we can change that paradigm. We can take it down.
As a cis-gendered, heterosexual woman I was a little surprised the first time I was asked to present (also as a northern tradition shaman, my relationship to gender norms is tenuous at best lol) but it's been an amazing and enlightening experience for two years running now. I was particularly enthusiastic about the ongoing theme of indigeny that ran throughout this conference and the strong Native American voice present this year. One thing that stood out for me as I was going through my own presentation, is that I really, really dislike calling it "gender transgression." It's not. It's people, ancient and modern, loving and serving their Gods and ancestors and expressing their humanity in exactly the ways they were meant by those Gods and ancestors to do. that's not transgression. That's natural. It's only a distorted society such as we live in today that would cast such glorious diversity of being as 'transgressive'.
Amongst the many Gods I love and adore there is One Who changes His gender at will, whenever need demands (or I suspect, whenever He is bored). May He be hailed always and in all things, this God of Change, of the merry heart and mischievous mind, the unquiet thought, and untamable fire, quicksilver daring and dangerous. I praise Loki, Who nurtured and nourished me, giving color to my life. I praise the God Who is Mother and Father both, Who sees all things, a spider in His web, Who dares what must be dared, Who will never be bound as some may wish. I praise the God of the flaming hair and scarred mouth. Always.
There's been a great deal of interest lately in my MA thesis: “Race, Gender, and the Problem of ‘Ergi’ in Modern Heathenry” . Quite a few people have asked me if they could read it, and there's been a tremendous rise in attempts to access it through various academic networking and search sites.
I'm gratified by the interest and I would like to let folks know that I am in the process of preparing it for publication. I am hoping to have it out by late autumn. I will post updates including (of course) the release date here, as things progress.
It's been pointed out on several blogs during the course of this ongoing debate about polytheism that I don't speak for all of Heathenry, that I am, by mainstream Heathens viewed as (at best) being on the fringe of Heathenry. This is true. I don't speak for Heathenry now, I speak for what it can and should be. As to what various groups of mainstream Heathens might think about me and my work well, it's largely irrelevant for me. I'm not writing for them. I care only about what the Gods and ancestors think of my work, and i'm writing for those Heathens actually interested in honoring the Gods and ancestors deeply, consistently, rightly, and well. No theologian speaks for an entire tradition. In many respects, hammering out the boundaries of one's tradition is a matter of battling through conflicting theologies for the central position. I don't even care about that, if one comes right down to it. I care about holding the line that my Gods and ancestors have given to me to hold so that people coming into Heathenry will know that those who call themselves the mainstream, who also think that they speak for the entire tradition (when they also do not) are not all there is. There are actually Heathens out there who eschew the xenophobic bullshit and who believe in a deeply, fervently engaged polytheism. Those are the people I'm writing for; the rest can suck it.
Now there's been a lot of bitching, whining, fighting, and moaning over the definition of the word "Polytheist." There is one way to define this word, and you know what? It has nothing to do with contemporary theological debates. It's a matter of ancient Greek etymology: poly=many and theoi = gods. A polytheist is a person who believes in the existence of many Gods. period. that's not so hard is it, boys and girls? Just break that word down. That is the line many of us hold and will continue holding in the sand. If you do not believe in the independent existence of many Deities, then you are not a polytheist and all the bitching, whining and moaning in the world isn't going to change that. As my colleague Anomalous Thracian said, words are important, and so is meaning.
Those whom I shall call 'non-theistic Pagans," (humanist pagans, atheist pagans, some pop culture pagans, archetypalists, etc. etc.) are not polytheists. I question, I truly do, why so many of them are so interested in coming into our spaces and laying claim to the word. Surely "Pagan" has already been corrupted enough. A word that also may be taken to mean, 'one who believes in the Gods' (though it's original meaning was 'rural dweller' or 'country person' and it came to be used as a derogatory term by newly empowered Christians in the late Roman empire) has now been taken over and turned on its head so that the Gods need play no part in its actual embodied practice. Apparently 'Pagan' can mean anything one wants it to mean, which is a sad commentary on the paucity of American linguistic education. Do I think that any of the aforementioned groups are "Pagan?" No I don't. But notice i'm not going into their spaces and telling them so. Every place that I have spoken my piece has been *my* space or that of a like-minded colleague. Their influence is in large part why many of my colleagues eschew the word 'Pagan' altogether, finding the mishmash of confused and non-Deity centric ideologies that are all too often present in those espousing the word to be distasteful. At best. We will not cede 'polytheist' though. And I find it very, very interesting that we're being pushed to do so.
My colleague Laura made a very interesting comment during the course of the various debates (and I'm admittedly paraphrasing), noting that every single time polytheists carve out a small bit of space for themselves, non-Theistic "Pagans" come into that space attempting to marginalize the devotional voice and assert their own points of view instead. Then they get upset when they're met with anger, when they are not accepted as part of the tribe. Well, polytheism isn't fucking Burger King. You don't get to do it "your way." Within the boundaries of your own traditions, do whatever you want, but don't call it polytheism when you're not involving Gods, and don't try to dictate to us what to believe or accept within the boundaries of our own sacred hearths. There's been talk about how respective polytheistic blogs are extensions of our shrine space. I'll take that one further: the entire body of traditions is our sacred space. It's not just a blog or a physical shrine, though desecration of such a space would be bad enough: it's the traditions of polytheism themselves. These are sacred things, reliquaries of ancestral wisdom, seeds for the growth of a tradition, the mysteries of our Gods and Goddesses, the technology to better connect to and engage with our holy Powers and they have been given to us to hold and to tend. That's what the word 'cult,' which comes from 'cultus' means, by the way: to tend, just like one would tend a garden or tend a tilled and planted field. If a field is not tended properly, worked in, its boundaries protected from predators, then the crops do not grow and the people starve. So it is with our traditions.
In traditional polytheisms, the Gods (and ancestors) are the focus of one's spiritual life. Many contemporary non-theistic Paganisms place the Self at the center of their "theology." Therefore, I suppose we should not be surprised at the level of vitriol coming from that camp given that if the self is at the center of one's belief system and someone questions or attacks that belief system, what we're really doing in a roundabout way is attacking their sense of personhood, since they put the self in place of the Gods and hold nothing higher than human achievement. (Ironically, I was having a discussion with two Christian colleagues today, both of whom belong to a splinter denomination of orthodox Christianity and they both pointed out that they see exactly the same type of self-centered focus in many of their own minority denominations up to and including Jesus being referred to as an archetype, so polytheism isn't the only body of traditions experiencing this type of thing). There's been an awful lot of talk about how "intolerant" polytheists are being in not accommodating and accepting these non-theistic beliefs within the boundaries of their practice. This is crack. This is the equivalent of a polytheist walking into a Baptist Church service and getting pissed off when the Baptists refused to accept and pray to multiple Deities.
I will be the first to admit, this debate has made me incredibly angry and even more disgusted with contemporary Paganisms. I claim no moral high ground here. At times, the assault on our traditions left me utterly enraged. What it has done for me in addition to all of that, is make it clear how crucial it is for me and my fellow polytheists to hold the line of our traditions strong and sure. Part of doing that is to work hard to deepen our own devotional practices in the face of this debate, to deepen our own connections to Gods and ancestors so that what to many of us would carry with it the grossest and most grievous of spiritual miasma has no means by which to gain purchase. We owe this to our Gods and to our dead. We owe it to those who will come after us and we owe it to ourselves. Defending and building our traditions starts the same way: engage. Honor the Gods. Honor the ancestors fiercely, proudly, consistently, and with your whole heart. Let that be the axis around which everything else in your life revolves, the source from which all else flows. In doing this, you are taking your place in a spiritual lineage. you are reaching back and clasping hands with your ancestors, with those who practiced the very traditions you're attempting to restore.
We are restoring cultus, many of them. In doing so, we are each in some way partnering with our Gods and ancestors. We're engaged in sacred work. I think it is the most important work we shall ever do. I think it is key to righting the imbalances of our world, and to countering the depredations of the filter. Dr. F. Cress-Welsing put it best when she wrote that "the most disastrous aspect of colonization which you are the most reluctant to release from your mind is their colonization of the image of God." That, I think, is what we are all -- both sides here--confronting and I think it's important that we do so without flinching. It's the first step in decolonizing our minds and reclaiming our ancestral spiritualities. It's work that needs to be done.
My latest Heathen Heretic column is up, wherein I answer a reader's question about what to do when the idea of honoring the dead is difficult, uncomfortable, or even distasteful.
Check it out, folks.
(the photo above and attached to the article is mine, of arlington national cemetery).
I will be participating in a month of internet and radio silence for the month of July, (see here for more info) and several people have asked me why.
There are many reasons: solidarity with my fellow polytheists, a response to the marginalization of deity-centered practice within the greater umbrella of Paganism, intense anger at the way polytheists who protect and defend their traditions are being targeted and attacked, accused of being fundamentalists, dominionists, bigots, etc. when we protect and maintain our traditions (it's not just our blogs that are extensions of our sacred space, it's our *entire* tradition. Our entire tradition is sacred space), and the need to re-center myself and ground. But one reason stands out most strongly for me, and for me, is the most important reason why I decided to come on board with this proposal.
This debate has stolen time and energy away from my Gods. yes, a huge part of my work is maintaining an internet presence, writing, teaching, etc. A huge part of my devotional and spiritual work is fighting via the vehicle of my words to craft and root the restoration of polytheisms, and sometimes that means that there will be debates. But this latest one went way too far and got way out of hand, veering into ad hominum attacks galore. It showed me things about contemporary Paganisms that make me sick to my soul. Not only do I need the restoration inherent in spending quality time, so to speak, with my Gods and ancestors, but I owe it to Them to do so. I owe them. I owe them the time and emotional energy that this debate took from my devotional work with Them. I need to repay what was stolen.
So, for my own balance spiritually, for my own devotional life, I am taking the entire month of July and I am dedicating it consciously, every single day, as an offering to my Gods and to my beloved dead. Every day, the time that I would normally spend writing articles, commenting, surfing, using facebook, planning my radio show, and other publicly oriented works, will be spent in one of the many devotional projects that have gone undone because I've been so engaged in this online crap.
Come August first, I will share here what projects I have finished, what I did, and how I honored my Gods and dead during the previous month; and then I will get back to the business of writing about poly-theology.
(the photo is one of mine, 'Flowers in a Danish Swamp').
In response to my call for questions, Keith asks:
"I'm struggling with the complexities of honoring a Power for whom no modern cultus exists, even though she has been widely acknowledged both openly and via nationally-specific epithets for at least the last few centuries.
Somehow the idea of resurrecting the old Greek or Roman cultus seems inconsistent with Her emphasis on leading change from the front.
Perhaps I'm over complicating things or being stupidly head-blind again, but do you have suggestions for those who find themselves trying to create a devotional practice in the absence of a "handbook", so-to-speak?"
Well, in a way I think you are fortunate. You're in a position that forces you to seek out direct devotional experience. That is an opportunity to root your veneration and practices in a bone and soul deep knowing rather than on the vagaries of theories or the brittle condensation of the written word (which can be useful as a guide, but is all too often taken as inviolable authority).
At the same time, since apparently, according to what you've shared, there was a cultus for this Holy Power in ancient Greece and/or Rome, you have at least some surviving remnants indicating how She was appropriately venerated by those amongst whom Her worship evolved. Sometimes restoration and reconstruction is something of a balancing act isn't it?
I would advise starting with the epithets and cultic practices that you note in your question. that's a framework, a guide. It should not limit you from also exploring ways to adapt and grow Her veneration in the modern world. Talk to Her, ask Her what She wants and then listen and if you are "head blind" look for omens around you, signs, portents, listen for that small voice inside that reflects the encounter with the holy. Start with the tools that work best for you (like prayer, meditation, ritual, study, etc.) and work outward from there.
I often find altar work to be very helpful in situations like this. I'd encourage you to set up an altar or shrine.Start with the ancient attributions to Her power and put images that reflect those on the altar. Then start looking around your life and world today, and see where you most sense or see Her touch, Her influence, the flow and breath of Her energy. This will give you ideas on how to expand Her veneration in ways that better reflect (for you) your place and Hers in our modern world.
change is powerful medicine, but to flourish and grow in an organic and holistic fashion it needs to be rooted in the wisdom of the past, the wisdom of our ancestors. These two things are meant to work in tandem, balancing and supporting each other, so I would encourage you not to immediately dismiss those old epithets and ancient practices. Just don't stop there, or allow them to limit your explorations of Her nature, Her power, and the ways in which you can express your devotion to Her today.