My Polytheism Redux

Now that I got some essential bits of political folderol out of the way, let me talk more about #mypolytheism. My polytheism is all wrapped up in death and the Dead. And in Monsters. Pretty dark stuff, I suppose, but somehow I get a good giggle out of it fairly often. And, in truth, I find that these topics buoy me up, lift me above and free, rather than dragging me down. They keep me energized and out of depression. Which I suppose sounds odd to someone who's never practiced deathwork. I feel strange claiming that term, although I suppose it fits. The strangeness comes in here: I always thought deathwork was work about the moment of passing from life into death, in all the many ways that phrase could be taken. And of the many things I have so far undertaken, this is something I have not done. I have not attended a death. I did not attend the death of the grandmother I hated; although I offered to, my family did not want me to come home. I did not attend the death of my "bonus grandmother", my good grandmother's housemate, who had been simply another grandparent all my life. I was not offered the option to go; only her blood relations were, and my grandmother, and I suppose that's fair. (I didn't make it to the funeral either, though, and that hurt. I held an effigy funeral in my backyard.) But deathwork is more than that, and I guess it's what I do. I study the Dead, both the spirits and the history. I venerate the Dead, my Ancestors and others. I study how dying is done in this country, and consider how I want to die in this culture, and am turning to finding ways to make death better in this country. I'm taking power from this. I immerse myself in the traditions of death so that I can write the funeral rituals of a tradition, and I have offered to go myself and perform the funeral rites for any initiate who dies. I hope and plan to train up others to be specialists in the deathwork of my tradition. I do deathwork. I also work with monsters. I work with figures from my Starry Bull Tradition, many of which are pretty monstrous, and which instruct that I should find the monstrous within me. But then there is my work for Hekate, in which I call on the Monsters of her retinue, those who follow her on her long ramblings. The Lampades, Underworld torch-bearing nymphs, who show themselves to me as nine. Empousa, the lamed, crippled, disabled, shape-changing Monster who pursues and never rests. Lamia, a shark Monster, not a snake one, who has had her eyes put out, who waits in the salt sea to devour men and terrify children. Mormo, she of the ten thousand beautiful faces, one of which may even be your own. The Gorgons, three or two or one alone, beautiful monsters with snakes and wings in their hair. They seem to expect that some day I will join them. I worship the darkest faces of Dionysos, and revel in them, even as I revel in his role as Lord of Joy. He's both the terrifying and bloody Bull, and the one who transforms my madness into ecstasy. I worship Hekate, who has frightened so many over the ages. She protects me and holds me close, gives me strength and empowers my choices. Neither of them is balanced or whole without all those aspects of themselves. I am not balanced without all the faces I wear, either. It's not so simple a matter as dark and light. There is strength and joy and comfort in the dark, and there is harm and terror in the light. Nothing is complete without all of it. Nothing is truly polar. It's not even a one-dimensional spectrum. Everything that is real exists in multiple dimensions, has depth and width and height. I find comfort and consolation and fortitude in what others think is dark and morbid. That's my polytheism....

My Polytheism

My polytheism is my own damn business. Your polytheism is your own damn business. #mypolytheism is a thing now, apparently. Polytheists speaking up about what polytheism means to them. That's cool. I went and read a bunch of the entries off this list. Some of them were really interesting. Some of them were really irritating. All of them were totally valid takes on polytheism. A common thread in several of the ones I read boiled down to this: Fuck Gatekeeping. That is, people don't get to say "This is Polytheism, but that is Not." Other than, y'know, the basic definition of believing that many gods are real. And I'm completely with that, and you can take all of that as read. Fuck Gatekeeping. I have no interest in defining polytheism. You identify as a polytheist, that's good enough for me. I don't necessarily want to hang out with you, but then I don't want to hang out with very many people. It's not personal. But here's what my polytheism is, rather than what it isn't. My polytheism is my practice and my belief. And where that overlaps with yours, that's exciting and let's talk about it, and where it's totally foreign, that can be really interesting, too, or on the other hand it might make me want to be elsewhere, but it doesn't really matter what I think, because your polytheism is yours. Don't let anybody take it away from you. And I'll do the same. My polytheism is dedication to my gods, but not necessarily putting them first all the time. Because they don't ask that of me. There have been times when they were essential to my life, even essential to my survival, but there have also been time when they were... not unimportant, but not immediately vital. Times when I didn't keep up a regular practice, but kept believing and loving them. My polytheism, right now and right here, is a daily practice, as much as I can keep it up, and not so much with the festivals and big rituals. I pray in the morning and I pray at night, or else I miss it and am sorry that I did. But right now, that's the core of my polytheism, my practice. My polytheism is worshiping a subset of the gods of ancient Hellas, because I can't manage to worship all of them, and neither can you, but I can worship the ones who matter most to me. My polytheism is my relationships with my gods, and fuck anybody who thinks I ought to have different ones. My polytheism says to help people, is the ways that are given to me to do. Some of them are just put casually in my way, and I try to help. Some of them I have to go find and work actively to do, and I try to help then, too. Because people have equal significance, even if they're not all significant to me, and they all deserve help as much as the people I care about do, even if I can't help them all. My polytheism plus your polytheism plus everybody else's polytheism adds up to not one big polytheism, but to a whole lot of different but overlapping polytheisms. This is what's wrong with the notion of one, singular Polytheist Movement, just as there's not one, singular LGBT Community. Instead, there's a set of polytheist movements, some of them with congruent or at least overlapping goals, but some of them very different. And that's ok, too. We should all follow our own polytheism, find our own fellow travelers, and build our own communities with them....

Beginning a regular practice

(Part 3 in an ongoing series. Part 1, Part 2.) I hope by now you've chosen an element of worship to start your practice with, whether that's prayer, offering or contemplation. Maybe you've chosen more than one, but for this stage, I strongly recommend that you stick to just one at first. Now, how to translate that one thing into a regular practice? Some people do best with rhythms, schedules, patterns. Those people should come up with one simple thing they do every single day. Just one, just once. Have one small, short prayer to utter. Have one stick of incense or one small item of food to offer. Have one minute of time set aside for contemplation. Pick a set time to do it -- when you first get out of bed, after your shower, when you sit down to dinner, last thing before bed. Whatever is a nice, stable pattern in your life, link it to that. (I do mine first thing when I get out of bed, and last thing before I go to bed.) You won't actually manage to do it every single day, especially in the beginning. Sometimes things will come up, or you'll feel awful, or whatever, and you'll skip it. That's ok. Don't stress about it. Just do it tomorrow, or the next day. Sometimes you'll stop for weeks altogether. That's ok, too. It happens to all of us. When you're ready, start up again. It's ok even to schedule days off from practice. Say, Mondays you have to get up extra early, but a morning practice works best for you otherwise. OK, skip Mondays. Try to do it as often as you can, though. Try for four or even five days out of seven, to start with. It's hard to establish a new habit, so go easy on yourself. You don't want your religious practice to be a source of stress in your life, you want it to be a moment of peace, of solace. So don't stress about it, just do it as much as you can. Some people don't do well with patterns, and prefer something a little more freeform. That's fine, too. In that case, murmur your prayer the first time you pass your shrine for the day, or the second, or just as some point. Make your offering a splash from your first cup of coffee for the day, whenever that is. When a thought of a god occurs to you, stop and think about them for a moment. If you get to the end of your day and you haven't done your thing, do it before bed. Whatever works for you works, and is therefore a good practice. The rest of the advice applies here, too. You won't manage it every day. Don't freak out, just do it tomorrow. Give yourself days off if you need them. Simply come back to your practice when you can. For both groups, when you are consistently doing it without it being a big chore, without having to think about it, maybe not every single day, but consistently most days, then you can add a second thing. Do not attempt to add new things until you have established the habit. Remember, begin simply. Don't overcomplicate your practice. Add an offering to your prayer, or a prayer to your contemplation, or a second prayer to a first, or whatever simple thing that makes sense to you you can find. Or add a second time during the day that you do things. In the morning and at night. Eventually, you can add more complex things. A lustration (ritual cleansing), or daily divination, or whatever else you like. But maybe not in the beginning. Give it time. Work up to it. Maybe add that as a third thing. Have one simple, basic thing that you can go back to, though. Sometimes, you will stop your practice for a long period, and starting up doing five things all together and all at once will seem like too much. It's ok to start back up with just one thing. It's also ok to scrap your entire current practice and find a new single basic practice to start with, as the foundation of a new practice....

Beginning to Do More

(part two in an ongoing series; part one is here) One of the problems with so many books on basic paganism is, I think, that they don't start with worship, they start with exercises, with meditations and trance work and magic, or they start with ritual without any explanation of what ritual is for or how it works or what it means. Some people want to start with those things, and there is nothing wrong with that. But there aren't a lot of books out there that start with the basic principles of worship, and most of them are for specific traditions. Worship breaks down into three basic components: prayer, offering, and contemplation. Prayer is simply addressing a god or spirit directly with some message. There are different kinds of prayer -- supplication, or asking for something; intercession, or asking a lesser spirit or god to intercede with a greater one; thanksgiving, does what it says on the tin; praise, extolling the good qualities of the god or spirit; and various kinds of statements of belief or intent -- but all of it addresses the god or spirit directly in an attempt to reach them. Prayer can be very formal, like a hymn, or very informal, like the one-sided conversations in Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret. They can be centuries old or extemporaneous. It doesn't matter how you pray, but if you wish to worship, it does matter that you pray. For polytheists and spirit workers, I recommend that prayers of praise outnumber all other types of praise roughly 2:1. Be sweet to your gods. Tell them you love them, or that they're awesome, or whatever else, regularly. Ask for things infrequently, and only when you're doing your best as well. Offerings should, I think, be fairly obvious. Things given as gifts to the gods. What offerings are most appropriate, the manner in which you give them, and what you do with them later depends a lot on the gods you worship and your practice. Food, drink, art, writing, incense, whatever you choose to give to the gods or spirits, that's an offering. Offerings are possibly the element of worship that our Protestant-dominated society has most alienated us from. I think that's a shame. Offerings can be a wonderful form of communion with gods and spirits, can bring you closer to them, just as giving gifts to your loved ones brings you closer to them. Contemplation is simply intentionally stopping to concentrate on thinking about the gods or spirits. This can be meditation, ecstatic communion, creating art about them, reading about them, anything that simply considers them, their nature, their actions. You can start with any of these elements. The suggestions from the first entry on this remain that same: Begin now. Begin where you are. Begin simply. Begin with what makes sense. So, today, right now, stop and do something simple that makes sense to you. Stop and pray, stop and make an offering, stop and think about your gods or spirits. Just do it. You can elaborate on it later, come up with a prayer to say every day, think of a better offering to give, come up with some more specific way to contemplate them....

God Nights

A new practice I've been working on taking up is having designated nights where I make offerings to and contemplate one of the gods with whom I am most involved. A night for Hekate was already built in -- the deipnon on the night of the new moon -- and I'd been making offerings and sometimes doing oracular work for Dionysos on the full moon. Since I'm looking at both starting up a business again and going back to school, upping my worship of Hermes seemed like a good plan, and I was finally putting together a separate altar for Ariadne, and it just seemed to come together to add them on the first and third quarters respectively. They mostly aren't a big production. Offerings and contemplation, usually just chilling out a bit with them as it were. If I'm going to do bigger ritual for them, it will be on those nights, but most of the time there's no reason to. A couple of weeks ago, I was set to babysit my friends' kids. Their 11 year old has been known to join me for worship from time to time, and is particularly fond of Hermes, whom she likes to call "the God of Fast". (She likes speed. I dread the day she learns to drive.) It just happened to be the same night as the first quarter, so I asked her if she'd like to join me for it. We made offerings of candy from her private stash (I'm still working out exactly what the best offering for Hermes is, but so far he seems to like sweet things), and read each other stories about him. She read to me from Greek Mythology Link, and I ended up reading her this story from Myths Retold, which puts various myths and legends into some of the more excited forms of net communication, full of sentence fragments, digressions and casual cussing. Like this: Yes it is greek history time again which means it is time to learn about assholes or really, one asshole generally when we talk about history we tend to focus on one or two assholes at a time (or else whole huge groups of assholes that run in packs leaving great greasy black trails of shit all over everything but that’s gross so today we’re only talking about one) (From Alcibiades is Handsome as Hell) Also it has really entertaining lines like referring to a certain superficially similar set of trickster-messenger gods (including Hermes) as "just a fast-moving jerk clown swinging more dick than a playground full of private detectives." So that seemed appropriate for a Hermes night. I wouldn't read from that blog for most gods (although I should really look up anything it has on Dionysos), but I figured Hermes would be amused. I haven't been as consistent in observing these as I might like so far, but when I do manage these evenings, they feel good. A little time taken apart from everything else just to be with my gods. Brings me closer to them....

Ariadne prayer

For daily morning prayers, which makes for three separate prayers to Ariadne. I pray to Ariadne Who shows us the way to change To find courage after despair I pray to Ariadne of the Labyrinth...

How to begin with the Purple Thread

Many people find it difficult to begin to worship a new god/hero/group of them. But beginning with the Purple Thread is pretty easy. First, get some purple thread. If you're a spinner, as I am, you spin it. As you do so, recite the prayers from the last post on the Thread. When you prepare to spin, say: Seven women whose lives are twined In history and myth Seven women whose names are wrapped In purple thread Seven women whose lives show Our weaknesses and our strengths Seven women I honor and praise: The women of the purple thread. Then begin to spin. Since I'm a drop spinner, I give the spindle a good flick and spin as it drops, saying: I spin for Arakhne, Who rues what she did, And weaves now forever I pray to Arakhne of the Purple Thread When I wind up that length, I almost sing, "The Purple Thread winds on and on, the Purple Thread winds on," which after a while, combined with the spinning and the rest of the prayers, puts me into a light trance. You can do all your spinning for one day for one member of the Thread and go through them all over the course of a week, or run through them all one after the other on one day. When you finish, and have plied if you wish, and have washed and set it, move on to the next step. The rest is the same whether you spin or not. Take a length, which can be as short as enough for a bracelet or as long as enough to circle a room, of purple embroidery floss, cord, or yarn (don't use sewing thread, it's too fine). Tie a knot, or string on a bead and knot it in place, for each of the seven. (It may help to have each of them be unique somehow, for future use.) This will thread serve as meditation or prayer beads. Knot the ends together. At first, all you'll want to do is to pray the prayers, and to contemplate the heroines and goddesses. Take the time to read about them. I use the prayers in my daily ritual, with one member of the Thread each day, starting on Sunday with Arakhne and finished on Saturday with Kirke. I think that's enough to begin with....

The Purple Thread again

I was telling a friend about the Purple Thread over on Dreamwidth, and realized that a) I didn't have a good explanation of the whole shebang here, and that my prayers here are out of date. Time to fix that! Summary of the Purple Thread as written up for my friend: My Purple Thread cultus revolves around a set of seven women, demi-goddesses, and minor goddesses linked together by certain themes. The Hanged Maiden is one, as is the Wronged Maiden. The Thread progresses upward until, at its far end, it finds its epitome in Kirke (Circe), who is never overcome. The thread starts with Arachne, who rues what she did. In some versions, she hanged herself and was resurrected by Athena before asking for penance, and certainly she hangs by threads forever now. Patron of the over-proud who learn humility, and of weavers. Next is Erigone, Beloved of the Vine. Her father Ikarious was the first mortal to whom Dionysos taught to cultivate grapevines and to make wine. When he shared his first batch with his neighbors, they didn't know to water the wine, and became very drunk and passed out. Their families, finding them, thought that they were dead, and fell upon Ikarios and murdered him. When young Erigone found him dead, she hanged herself from a tree. Her loyal dog then cast herself into a well and drowned. Dionysos, returning from a ramble only just too late, finding them all dead, set them each in the stars, as Boötes, Virgo, and Canis Minor. He also drove the villagers mad and set all their daughters to hanging themselves from trees until they made amends, and ever after that city held a propitiatory rite in which young girls swung on ropes tired to trees, and tied ribbons, cups and dolls to dangle from branches. Patron of suicides and those with depression, and of the bereaved. Now comes Ariadne, Mistress of the Labyrinth, before her apotheosis. She helped Theseus to murder her brother Asterion, the Minotaur (the murder itself a necessary mystery); she loved her monstrous brother. Theseus betrayed her and left her on the shore while she slept. When she awakened alone and abandoned, she too hanged herself. Dionysos came along and saw how lovely she was, and resurrected her and made her a goddess, and by now she has left her thread. Ariadne was of distantly divine heritage, distant enough to make her immortal. Patron of those who dare the labyrinth and walk strange roads. Now comes Helen, Lady of Sorrows, who speaks for the Silenced (including the first three of the Thread). After the Great War, few stories are told of her. Menelaus took her home as spoils of war, but set her aside, and sent her into seclusion. Perhaps she, too, hanged herself, and was granted access to the Isle of the Blessed, where she ruled beside the likewise-apotheosized Herakles, now freed from the Hera-inflicted madness that drove him to kill those he loved. Or perhaps she escaped, and wandered the world, and helped women, and ended none knows where. Perhaps Aphrodite or Athena, impressed by her strength, apotheosized her without death, and sent her back to continue her work. She is a patron of abused women. Then Cassandra, beloved and cursed. You know her story. She, too, was taken as spoils of water, and mistreated, and of her many ends are told, but not one is true. She is not an active patron as Helen is, but go to her for prophecy and advice, and be very sure you listen well. Now Medea, betrayed and vengeful, and we start to reach for greater power, a women's power on her own. Cousin to Ariadne, she, too, turned against her family for a pretty man's face, and left, and was abandoned. Not content to be set aside, not even considering suicide, she struck back instead. She is fully divine, though as distantly as Ariadne, and may or may not have died at all. She is patron of women who seek vengeance. And finally Kirke, full goddess in her own right, who used men as she saw fit, and was not devastated when one she loved left her. She studied with her cousin Hekate (as did Medea), and learned secrets of magic, of necromancy and transformation, and much more, and kept her own counsel and no other's. She is patron of women who take up all the power they can. ("Women" here is loosely defined. Anyone who identifies even part-time as a woman or a feminine person qualifies, and they can certainly choose to act as patron to anyone they damn well please as well. You may find that some of them also have genderqueer connections. I have not looked for any.) Current prayers: Seven women whose lives...

How to Begin

"Begin at the beginning," the King said gravely. But how? is what I hear many people new to paganism, to polytheism, to magic, and more, asking. How do I begin? Where is the beginning? There are so many books out there that purport to, or at least imply that they do, have the One True Way. All of these things to read, all of them telling readers How It Must Be Done. It's ridiculous, and overwhelming, and it scares people off. Begin now. Don't wait for things to be perfect, because they will never be perfect. If you wait to begin praying until you have all these fancy tools and altars and statues and ritual garb, you won't begin, because there will never be enough of it. There's always something else to have, forever. If you wait for it to be perfectly silent before you meditate, you will never meditate, because unless you have an anechoic chamber handy, there is no perfect silence. Pick something, anything, to do, and do it. Do it again, and again, and again. Keep doing it until it's habitual to do it. That's a regular practice. Ready for more? Pick something else to do, and do that, too. Begin where you are. There is literally no place else you can begin. Very few people can meditate for more than a minute or two at a time to start. Very few people can get every visualization on the first try. It's ok if you're not one of the very few. You are where you are, you can do only as much as you can do. So today, do what you can do today. Do that again tomorrow, and the next day. After a while, the amount that you can do today will feel easy. That's when you stretch it. Meditate for two minutes instead of one. Keep beating your drum for an extra four-count. Whatever it is, try for a little more. But don't get mad at yourself for not being able to do it every time. That's useless. It will stop you from doing anything. Begin simply. Whatever you pick to begin with, let it be simple. One kind of meditation, one prayer, one offering, one deck of tarot cards. Don't needlessly multiply things. There are so many cool things out there that it's tempting to jump in to as much as possible as fast as possible. But this way lies burnout. There is time and time and time, and you can study anything you want, because there is time. But for now, begin with just one thing. Begin with what makes sense. This is brand new to you. A lot of it won't make sense. You have plenty of time to learn, to come to understand. For now, start with the things that already make some sense to you. There's depth beneath them, more than you realize, and you'll learn about that in time, too. But the best way to learn it is by doing it. So don't put off doing while you read more and more books, trying to understand everything before you begin. Begin now, where you are, with something simple, that makes sense at a basic level. And then go from there. Unlike the White Rabbit's verses, there is no end to stop at. There is time to get to it all, eventually. If you practice, you will gain skill and confidence, understanding. You'll gain it at your own rate, not anyone else's. You have your whole life to learn it, your whole life to get there. Be as patient with yourself as you can be....

The Nurses

There are many names for and stories of the nymphs who raised Dionysos. Some of their names are genealogical, some local. They are called the Hyades, the Lamusides, the Lamides for their families, or the Dodonides, the Naxiai, the Nysiai or the Mysiai for their place of residence. As the Hyades, they are the daughters of Atlas and Pleione, and the sisters of Hyas, a daimon of rain, and the Pleiades. When Hyas was killed in by a boar Libya, they wept and wept at would not be comforted, and were called Hyades for their brother whom they mourned. Zeus found them at Dodona (hence Dodonides) and gave the Infant Dionysos to raise, which brought them out of their grief at last, and the sisters and their charge moved to Nysa, where Dionysos was brought up, so that they became known as the Nysiai. When Dionysos was grown, the Hyades became the first of his Mainades, and danced with him, and were put to flight by Lycurgus and took refuge with Theris. In time, though, they grew old, and Dionysos went to Medea to beg her to make them young again, as she had done for Aeson. She did, and Dionysos asked his father Zeus to set them among the stars in thanks for their service and love, and he took Hyes, the Rainy One, as one of his own mystic names.* In other stories, they were called Lamides or Lamusides, daughters of the sacred river Lamus, and were likewise charged with the care of Dionysos, or were Hyades in Mysa, named for Hylas the lover of Herakles whom they drowned in their well (Herakles’ search for his lover became a yearly festival in Mysa), or they raised the child on Naxos instead of Nysa, accounting for the rest of the names mentioned. But I think it is the version I have given that makes the story most meaningful to the thiasos. They are literally a part of the Starry Bull in the Heavens, their stars forming the head of Taurus, and their brother was slain by a boar, starting their story and their division from their sisters. One of their number bore the name Thyone (or Dione) before Semele was retrieved from under the earth and took it up herself. In Hellas and Magna Graecia, the helical rising (rising and setting along one horizon, and not traversing the sky) of the Hyades came in the fall, just as the rains began, signaling the start of the plowing season. Their rain brings life back to the parched earth, but also rages in storms. Their number varies, but Pseudo-Hyginus, in Astronomica, says that they are seven (which fits nicely with the weekly calendar of the thiasos), and gives their names as Ambrosia, Eudora, Pedile, Coronis, Polyxo, Phyto, and Thyone. All my life, I have been energized and rejuvenated by then rain, and I have felt moved for some time to develop a cultus for the Hyades. I put it off all summer long, knowing that it was not their time of year. But at the Autumn Equinox, I celebrate the beginning of Fall and the return of the rains in Seattle, and so I now begin, and will carry on through until Spring, when the rains taper off. And although the head of Taurus first peeped over the horizon proper a month ago, it is only now that it becomes visible over the trees. A festival of the Hyades is best held during the beginning of your local rainy season, wherever you are, whenever that happens. Even the deserts of the American Southwest see a rainy season. Celebrate them then, the day the purple clouds come rushing across the horizon and the dry washes are suddenly full. Celebrate them when the pouring monsoon starts, and know that they, too, have their fury, just as their own dear Lord does. Celebrate them in the gentle rains of spring, when the weather warms enough that snow no longer falls, and the ground begins to thaw. Celebrate them in the rain. And so, since today, the Equinox, is bright and warm, I will wait until the next rainy day to give them offering and call aloud their names. If you wish to celebrate the Hyades, then on that rainy day, if you know a place where nymphs dwell, go there. Bring offerings of honey or mead, and wine, and eggs. Bring silver or grey ribbon, and tie it to trees or pin one end under a rock and let it stream out like a rivulet. If you do not know a place where nymphs dwell, then take your offerings and walk in the rain. Tie your ribbons wherever you find a place that seems right. If you find a place where offerings might be...