Ritual Framework for the Litany

Galina Krasskova, after using the Litany for the Many Dead in a group ritual, wrote to me to suggest that it needed a ritual framework. Not everyone who might use it has experience working with the Dead, she pointed out, and working with them can be difficult and even dangerous. The Litany is an invocation of a great many groups of the Dead, too, not all of whom might get along, with each other or with the participants. The idea was something of a revelation to me. Honestly, I hadn't thought very much about how it would be used, hadn't considered things that way. It worked for me, of course it did, I wrote it to work for me. But now I needed to make it work for others in a ritual context. So I wrote back and said, basically, that that was an excellent idea and I'd get right on it. I wrote this a little while ago, and never did get around to posting it. It will, eventually, be in a second edition of the book that I'm planning, with additional verses. The introduction to the new edition will also have the suggestion that if people have a problem with a particular group of the Dead that they simply leave out that verse rather than invoke spirits they don't get along with, or that might not get along with their ancestors. It's important to exercise some discernment in these matters, and some discretion. Reading it alone, over your ancestor altar, as a way of simply acknowledging those of your ancestors whom it fits, it might not be such a big deal, but in a group ritual, some of those verses can be a very big deal. It is, as Galina pointed out to me, a political work, and it's political because I'm political. Every verse in there represents some of my Dead, whether the connection is of blood or feeling. Personally, I feel like almost all of them apply to at least some of everybody's Dead (for exceptions I'm thinking specifically of the verse about the AIDS dead -- possibly not everyone knows someone who died of that disease -- and of course of the Shoah, Porajmos, Stolen and other very specific groups of the Dead), but everyone knows their own Dead better than I possibly could. When read privately, it can be that kind of acknowledgement and praise of one's own dead. When used in a group ritual, it inevitably calls on the greater body of the Dead. So use your own best judgement. (I'd prefer, of course, that people not leave out groups of the Dead based on bigotry, but there's not much I can do about it.) I feel like I shouldn't hold this ritual back waiting to publish, especially this month, when so many are honoring the Dead. So here it is. Ritual Framework for the Litany for the Many Dead This ritual can be done by any number of people, from one to many. If you have many people, you may wish to assign the initial ritual parts to different people, and to arrange attendees in a circle and give them each a verse to read when it's their turn, or you might wish to have it take the form of a presentation by a few people or one person. If you are two or three, you might want to pass the book or paper back and forth and take turns. If you are alone, you can do it by yourself quite easily. As part of the planning for this ritual, I suggest that you pray to your own ancestors, including making offering to them, telling them what you're planning, and asking them to act as a sort of crowd control. If you don't already have an active ancestor worship practice, know that you can just tell them conversationally. Summon them, using the Beloved Dead verse if you like, and just say, "I'm going to be doing this ritual for the Many Dead. Can you please help me with it?" Make an offering of some food or drink traditional to your family, or that particular ancestors liked. Call them first when you begin the Litany. Have ready a bell or chime, incense, one or more candles, water and a bowl or cup into which it will be poured, and any other offerings you want to make, either to the Dead in general or to specific groups or individuals. Wine, milk, honey and flowers are all good choices. For individual Dead, some food or drink they loved in life. Begin by creating sacred space and boundaries for it in whatever way your tradition usually does. Include a cleansing of the space and all participants. It is important to have both a space that is...

Retreat Weekend

This weekend, I went on a Bacchic retreat with a small group of likeminded folks on the Oregon coast. We rented out a house on the beach and spent the days in ritual, conversation, prayer and divination. There was wine and there were gifts. There were processions, a mad prophet, raw meat, roasted beef heart, dancing on the edge where the water lapped, chanting and singing, and for the first time, I played my drum in front of people. I saw again people I'd met before, and met in person for the first time people I'd only corresponded with online. It was pretty incredible. For the first time, I helped to write and then perform a ritual for a group. I had quite a bit of stage fright about it, but it went very well, and was a wonderful experience for me. I brought along the beginning of a project I've spoken of only a little here. I'm engaged in writing mortuary and funerary rituals for the Starry Bull tradition. I've done a great deal of reading and research for it, but very little writing. I am too conscious of the weight of the responsibility, too worried that I'll get it wrong to write much. But this weekend I knew I was going meet in person someone who had invested in my research, and I wanted to show her that I wasn't wasting that investment. So I finished writing the one ritual I'd gotten traction on, and brought it along to show people. The response was so positive that I am again fired up about it. I have more confidence in my ability to do this. I'm thinking of starting a second blog specifically for the project, collecting my research and notes and talking about the process. Rewriting Death is the name I have in mind. There were two big disappointments for me, both involving only my own body and no fault to anyone else. First, I sliced the underside of my little toe open stepping on broken glass late Thursday night, and spent four hours in the emergency room getting it stitched up again. Not only did I get very little sleep before the long drive down, but I had to be very careful of it all weekend. I couldn't get sand in it. I couldn't go for a cleansing ritual plunge in the cold Pacific. I couldn't enjoy the hot tub. There is very little less conducive to a ritual mindset than double bagging one's right foot. The mad prophet helped me out, though. And then, hauling supplies up and down the narrow and twisting path to the beach, I sent my back into a nasty spasm, and suffered some pretty serious pain the rest of Saturday night and Sunday. A good night's sleep in my own bed and some care taken of it has helped that enormously, though. It was a weekend that made solitary me want to do more ritual with other people. Preferably without injuring myself....

Writing Ritual

So I'm planning a retreat with some friends for this summer, and somehow I and two others got voluntold to write the main ritual. Um. OK. I, at least, have only ever helped to plan a ritual in a significantly larger group of planners, with people who are able to get and keep the ball rolling on the planning itself. This new thing is a little bit nerve wracking. It took a while for us to get rolling, and since there was community drama going on, silence from my writing partners kicked off my anxiety a bit. We got over than, and slowly built up a head of steam. It's a fascinating process. I've been throwing out images and phrases that have power, one writing partner has been keeping us focused on the purpose of the ritual, and the third has been good at finding methods. I think we're making a good team, now that we're rolling. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and we won't know for sure how good a job we've done until the ritual's performed....

Bachkeion crowdfunding

Bakcheion, the group I'm part of to put together a Bacchic ritual for Many Gods West, is running an Indiegogo campaign to help raise money. Several of us (including me) need money to help cover travel, hotel stay and food, and of course there are materials we need to buy for the ritual itself. If you'd like to go help, that would be awesome. You'll find many cool perks, including divinations from several people, one of Sannion's books, grapevine wood amulets, consecrating oil, and some handwoven bookmarks in the colors of the Starry Bull tradition by yours truly....

Summer Is Icumen In

June isn’t really summer in Seattle. We famously get the “June Gloom” — it’s mostly cool and grey and sometimes drizzly, with one or two days a week of bright sun and warmer temperatures. Conversely, most of September is summer. It cools down from August’s temperatures, but slowly and gradually, and leaves don’t start to turn until the last week of it, or even into October. Oddly, even people who have been in Seattle for many years (including me, sometimes) seem to forget this most years. Natives complain about how it’s June, where’s summer, it’s supposed to be all sunny and hot already. The thing is, “supposed to” when it comes to local climates doesn’t work like that. Summer — any season — in any given area starts when the weather turns to whatever defines that season. In Florida, what passes for winter (temperatures in the 50s and 60s and chilly rain) often doesn’t start until January, and only lasts into February sometime, these days. When I was growing up, December was winter, too, but now many years it’s 75F or 80F (fall temperatures, there) at Christmas. Spring is basically March and maybe April, and summer runs well into October. Seasons aren’t defined by a calendar, by months or weeks or days, but by the skies and the earth and the plants. They vary from year to year, and over decades and centuries. With the current climate change, all our seasons are in flux. Sure, hotter, longer summers, but also more intense storms, harder winters, everything. “Global warming” only means that the average temperature over the entire earth and over years at a time is trending slowly upwards. (For a good, simple illustration of what the couple of degrees of shift in this really means, check out this XKCD.) What it means season by season and year by year, though, is that there’s more energy in the system, making everything more violent and less predictable. It is not only the case that our seasons will not match the classic ideas of when and what seasons should be (ideas that only ever applied to the Northeast in the US), more and more they aren’t even going to match what they used to. We will need to adjust our notions of what seasons are like, instead of simply assuming that they will conform to our expectations. I, as I’ve said before, think that it’s important for both neopagan and reconstructionist religions to localize themselves, to find the local spirits and entities, to find and recognize the patterns of the seasons. In every polytheistic and animistic religion, historical and modern, that I’ve ever heard of, worship changes from place to place, honors the genius loci, worships the local aspects of the gods, holds seasonal holidays a little differently, in ways that acknowledge the patterns of weather and climate in that place. Even in our increasingly urbanized and homogenized cultures, different regions and cities and even neighborhoods have their own traditions for the seasons — festivals for corn or garlic or peppers, frog legs or apples or pears; Spring Queens and Harvest Kings and whatever else, timed by whenever the local weather usually permits a good party. We just don’t think of these things as part of religious practices anymore, though they would have been once. If we don’t connect our practices to the places we live, we’re cutting ourselves off from so much richness and depth for our traditions. None of this was what I set out to say when I started typing. I meant to talk about how the rising temperatures and short nights are affecting me (especially with my AC out), about how it’s only beginning and will get worse and worse, how I’ll be on a descending path for the next two months. And all of that is true. I’m sleeping badly and little, feeling short-tempered and sticky while awake. A pressure in my head is slowly building, nearly every day, already, and here the summer is only beginning, although it’s been ruling my old home for months already. Summer, as I’ve said before, is the dead time, the mad time, the empty time, the parched time. For me. Wherever I go. But the land, whatever land I may live in, and the spirits of the land, need it. As much as I may hate it for what it does to me psychologically and physically, it is important. It is even important for me, I suppose, though I hesitate to say it. It is a vastly important time in my worship of Hekate. August belongs to her, under the Dog Star, and I will spend much of it in altered...

From the Vault: The Mysteries at Eleusis

My friend Literata posted an old piece from 2011, which referenced this old pice of mine. It was originally published at the Slacktiverse, which was Slactivist without the actual Slacktivist, after he moved to Patheos and left the inmates running the asylum. The festival I'm talking about is the Aquarian Tabernacle Church's Spring Mysteries Festival, which, actually I haven't gone to since then. The Mysteries at Eleusis They're on my mind quite a bit lately. I just got back from a pagan festival which attempts to recreate the spirit and purpose of the original, if not the form. They can't recreate the form, you see. We simply don't know enough about it. We know that there were Lesser Mysteries, held in another complex nearby, and that people had to attend the Lesser Mysteries before they could attend the Greater Mysteries. We know that the Mysteries had their roots in agricultural cycles, and centered around the myth of Persephone, Hades, and Demeter. We know that certain sacred objects (the Hiera) were shown to the initiates, although what they were is not known. We know that anyone could attend the Mysteries, man or woman, slave or citizen, Athenian or foreigner, so long as they spoke the Hellenic tongue and had not committed murder. We know that initiates took a fearsome oath to say nothing about the form of the Mysteries, beyond the ritual phrase, "Things were enacted, things were shown, words were spoken," dromena, deiknymena, and legomena. The punishment in Athenian law for violating this this was death, and the laws of the gods held worse punishments. (I can't tell you anything about the form of the ritual I attended because I have taken similar oaths, and while I won't be put to death, I wouldn't want to piss off my gods.) What we do know, though, is something about the purpose of the Mysteries. It is ritual revelation or reassurance of continuance after death, to take away the fear of death. The fear of death is basically the fear of ceasing to exist. I'm making a distinction here between the fear of death and fears of dying painfully or violently or alone or what have you. We're specifically talking about the fear of death itself. Many people experience this fear at some point in their lives, and most religions, philosophies, and other ways of thinking about the universe try to give people ways to deal with it, whether by guaranteeing life after death, or changing the focus to this life, or by choosing to accept and be satisfied or pleased with the idea. The ancient Hellenes and Romans had Eleusis, among other things, and the Mysteries shown and stories told there. The broad outlines of the story of Persephone, Hades, and Demeter are pretty widely known, but there's a lot more detail to it than most people are aware of. Demeter is the goddess of the grain, and when the world was young, the Earth always produced grain, all the year long. Demeter's greatest joy was in her daughter, Kore, whose name means simply Maiden. Some say that Hades asked Zeus for the hand of Kore, and Zeus, knowing Demeter would never consent to her daughter going to live in the Underworld, told him to kidnap her instead. Some say that Hades looked up and saw Kore picking flowers alone and acted on impulse. Whether it was premeditated or not, he split open the earth before her as she picked poppies and iris and violets, and took her back with him to the Underworld. Most people say that he swept her up and took her away without her consent, but others say that he convinced her to go with him of her own free will, convinced her to reach for the maturity she had never known as her mother's daughter. Some will even tell you that he raped her there in the meadow, but this is not so. It's a linguistic confusion, because the word rape (and its Latin forebear, rapere) originally meant to abduct, and the definition of violation came later. Only two in all the world knew what had happened: Helios, looking down from the Chariot of the Sun, who saw what happened but could hear nothing, and Hekate, who heard it but could not see. When Demeter learned that her precious daughter was gone, she sought high and low, through day and night, for her, seeking always. In her grief, she was known as Melaine, the Black Demeter, and Erinye, the Vengeful, and she would let nothing grow. In her wanderings, Demeter came to Eleusis, to the house of the king, Keleus. She told the king's daughters that her name was Doso, that she was a Cretan woman whose daughter had been abducted by pirates, and that she...

Twelve Rules for Sacred Reveling in Celebration of Dionysos

Drink wine blessed in the name of Dionysos. Drink water blessed in the name of the Hyades. Let both of them run down your chin and chest and onto your clothes. Eat food that nourishes you and brings you joy. AND only, no OR.* Play music that makes you want to dance. Play music that makes you want to sing. Play music that makes you want to drum. Dance. Sing. Drum. Weep. Feel release. Pray. Rest.** *All food nourishes you. Even “empty calories” are calories, and calories are the fuel your body runs on. Calories are what let you dance. This is important to know. **Not just, go to sleep after ritual. Lay on the floor or the cushions and marinate in joy, letting your body rest and relax. This is the other half of dancing, singing, drumming. Do not neglect this. Ritual is not over until you have done this. THEN you can go get some sleep, or do stuff and sleep after that stuff. The above rules were written during ritual, and edited only for spelling and clarity (like Chaucer). Yes, the footnotes, too. These are my rules only, derived from what makes a ritual complete, not dictating it. When I’ve done (at least a bit of) all of these things, only then can I start to contemplate whether or not I might be done, or if maybe I need to do some of those some more. If I have not done all of those things, then I’m going to feel unsatisfied. That wasn’t a revel. It may have been something else, but it wasn’t a revel, and I won’t have achieved proper catharsis. I say “drumming” up above, because now I have a drum I use that, but any sort of rhythmic interaction with the music works. Rattles, finger-cymbals, struck bells, slapping thighs… I’ve done all of those and found them perfectly suitable. It is, of course, also perfectly appropriate to simply drum without music, but I am very much not a musician, and I need other people’s music. As a side note, when I had finished this ritual and done a few things and headed back upstairs to watch movies on the laptop in comfort, I discovered a can of treacle pudding in our bed, which caused some confusion....

See how it twines as it climbs its way up

I’ve declaring the initial spinning of hemp for the vine bracelets for Thiasos of the Starry Bull done. I’ll let it rest overnight on the spindle shaft, wind it onto a niddy-noddy to make a skein, boil it to set the twist, wash it in dyer’s detergent to be very sure it’s free of anything that might resist the dye, soak it in soda ash, and finally dye it. I’m hoping to get most of that done tomorrow, pollen permitting. I may leave it in the dye bath up to three days, depending on how much dye the hemp takes up and how quickly (i’ve never dyed hemp before), stirring it up a few times a day. Then more washing, to get rid of any excess dye (less of a problem with fiber reactive dyes than acid, but we don’t want it bleeding all over people’s clothes). A day or more to dry, and I’ll finally be ready to measure, cut, and cord it into the bracelets themselves, once the new dedicated spindle arrives. I have the four verses of the incantation for the cording process now, and a start on the other five I’ll need for the silk orphininos bracelets later. I think no more than the first will be published here, if you catch it. Bast fibers are traditionally wet spun, moistened by the spinner as the fibers as smoothed and twisted, to tuck all of the ends in and glue them together as much as possible. Traditionally, this is done by running the thread through the mouth or by licking the fingers and running them damp along the fiber during drafting. Many people nowadays prefer to use a watered-dampered sponge or cloth to moistened fingers on instead. One fellow I knew years ago was experimenting with using a lactation aid that provided a slow, steady drip! But for magical and ritual purposes, I find it best to use something of myself in the spinning. When I’m working with protein fibers, I put in a single hair from my head somewhere in the skein, to connect me to it. With bast fibers, it’s spit. (If you’re thinking of ordering one, and worried about my spit, I remind you that it will have been boiled, washed, soaked in caustic chemical, soaked in dye, and washed another couple of times before you touch it. Promise.) A spinner who did not want to use their spit for whatever reason might instead choose to dampen a sponge with holy water, universal condenser, or some potion or other liquid instead, as long as it contained no oils or resins (you can strain it through a coffee filter once or twice to get rid of small amounts), very little sugar (no fruit juices) and was not dark enough to stain the fiber in a way that might affect the color. I can’t imagine doing so myself, mind, but there are possibilities there. There’s an update, then....

Hard Polytheism as Starting Point

I didn’t much like the way she framed the previous post, but this second post on hard polytheism by Morpheus Ravenna is excellent. It does bring to my attention that “Are the gods cosmic and universal or local and individual?” is a question people are actually asking as if it’s meaningful. I just. What? Like MR, I think that certainly there are different perspectives and scales from which it’s possible to view the gods, and like her I think that there are certainly very local gods. But how would we know if they’re “cosmic” and “universal”? What would that even mean to us as mortals? We could maybe figure out if they’re global, if we travel around the world (individually or as a coordinated group) and attempt to call on specific gods to see if they respond, but of course this is a bit shaky on its own. Even those who have a god phone* don’t necessarily get a response every time, and how do we know why they didn’t get a response? How many different places would we have to verify that they respond before we accept it as a definitive answer? Would even one be enough to disqualify that particular god? How many gods would we test before we accept that gods-in-general are global? And if we find that most gods are not global, then doesn’t that mean that they are also not universal? (I didn't actually mean to start designing an experimental protocol for testing this hypothesis. It got away from me.) As for “universal,” as I said, how would we know? No human has ever walked on another planet, and only twelve have even walked on a satellite of this one. No human has left our planetary system, much less our solar system. “Universal” isn’t a meaningful term in a human frame of reference. Not yet, and maybe not ever. If we mean "universal" as in "common to everyone," then obviously the answer is no, as there are and apparently always have been those who do not and cannot perceive the gods. But of course, the people asking this question don’t mean it literally. They mean some kind of conceptual sort of “universal,” though I'm not sure how they'd define it. But the thing is, this is, in principle, a falsifiable question, to those who already accept the existence of gods. Everyone is treating it as purely theoretical and theological (or everyone I’ve run across), but it’s not. This isn’t “Can an omnipotent god create a rock so big he can’t lift it?” As hard (or squishy, if you like) polytheists, we understand our gods as beings we can communicate with. We may not be able to get them a straight, simple answer that we can understand — which probably has more to do with our ability to comprehend than theirs to specify — but we can investigate the practical effects. At least if it’s something we actually want to know, rather than just something we want to debate. Personally, I don’t care much about the question. I can worship the gods I do from where I am, and they can reach me. If I take to worshipping a more local god, a genius loci, then that would be one near me, and I could go to them wherever they are. Theological questions are fascinating, but this one is far more practical than people are making it. Why am I insisting that it is? Because this is one of the things that I find so fascinating and wonderful about immanent deities and polytheist religions. If the gods are here, close by, where we can reach them, then we can find out far more about them. Not, as I said, necessarily by asking them, because they can’t necessarily give us meaningful answers, as I said. But we can, as we already do, try things and see what we experience, and then pool our knowledge — as indeed many of us do, often, and find that we have widely varying or even contradictory experiences, but hell, even that gives us information. Different people’s experiences of the same gods have always varied somewhat, even in one place, and far more from place to place. That’s one reason for the different cultic practices. The gods are greater than we, more than we. More than we can comprehend. This is apparent even in mythology. (Just look at what Zeus' true aspect did to poor Semele.) We can only see of them what they give us to see. But that does not mean that we cannot use the faculties they gave us to learn more collectively than we know individually. I am, as I’ve mentioned,...