Pretty cool, especially since she didn’t even know about Hellenismos before finding my book!
Announcing my latest publication: Working with Animal Bones: A Practical and Spiritual Guide – a short booklet on one of my favorite topics, with several lovely illustrations by my partner! Finally decided to put everything I know down on paper to help others who are interested in animal bones for crafting and/or spiritual purposes.
32 pages, staple-bound, 5.5 x 8.5 inches. List price: $7.95 plus shipping. Available in my Etsy shop. The Table of Contents can be viewed there. (It’s also available on Amazon.com, though at a dollar more due to their commission.) Here’s the description from the back cover:
Humans have had a long and complex relationship with animal remains since our earliest days. Skulls and bones in particular have served important religious and magical purposes, and have been incorporated into practical tools and transformed into works of art, throughout history and across a multitude of cultures. Recently there has been a resurgence of interest in animal bones both within spiritual traditions drawing on animism, polytheism and shamanism, and from a purely aesthetic perspective.
Working with Animal Bones introduces the reader to the biological processes which form bone; gives advice on how to find bones in a natural setting, and subsequently identify and thoroughly clean them; discusses the types of crafts that can be made with bones; and explores the history and modern practices involving the sacred use of animal bones, including divination. An annotated bibliography and list of online resources for collectors are also included.
Announcing my new website Bird Spirit Land – one place to access all of my projects, books, services, shops, etc. It was only when putting this together that I realized how much stuff I have going on! This is mostly just a convenient way for me to direct new acquaintances to the entirety of my projects, rather than giving out a dozen different links, but I thought it might also be useful for those of you who are interested in more than one thing and want to keep tabs on what I’m doing. Also, sharp eyes will notice a few upcoming projects listed which haven’t been otherwise announced.
“Yet the gods are not linear. Do we negotiate with the gods, pray to the gods, in our limited perspective while the gods themselves laugh and say, ‘Yes, my love. You can have this now, because I know you will earn it later…'” (Ariadne in Exile)
I’ve never heard anyone else talk about this, but I have experienced it in my own spiritual life, and suspect it may even be happening more than I can recognize.
Recently I was having a “spirited” discussion with someone in the comments section of a blog post about, basically, how immersed one needed to be in an ancient culture to properly practice its religion (and how virulently one must eschew all other influences….clearly, if you are familiar with my path, my answer was “not very”). Now, it’s kind of ironic, in that I spent quite some time in my early days on the Hellenic lists arguing in favor of Reconstructionism as an approach, and now I find myself having to argue against it, at least to the degree that some people are taking it. Because, the thing is, I think Recon is a very good initial methodology when approaching the gods of an ancient religion. But when taken too far, it risks fetishizing the culture – in other words, humans – rather than focusing on how best to honor the gods. Once again, it becomes an issue of “It’s Not About Us.”
If the gods are real, independent beings and not a product of human imagination (and if you disagree with this, my comments are not really relevant to you), then They did not originate with us and They do not belong to us, not even to the ancient culture who first (to our knowledge, as such) worshipped Them. Those are just the folks with the most history with Them. Now, that’s very important, in that those people accumulated a lot of experience with those particular deities; they had centuries to figure out what They liked and didn’t like, what They wanted out of human beings, etc. Certainly, it would be foolish to disregard all of that and start from scratch. But that is the reason for adopting a Reconstructionist approach – not because that ancient culture was somehow more pure, or worthy, or even more inherently connected to the gods than any of us have the potential to be (though of course, the culture as a whole was more connected than our culture is, but that’s not something we can control no matter how much we play at being ancient Celts or Greeks; we are coming from a fundamentally different position and that’s okay, we can still have very meaningful relationships with the gods, They certainly will not reject us because of it). In fact, every one of those ancient cultures had plenty of problems we would not actually want to take upon ourselves.
My view is that the ideal process when beginning to worship ancient deities (assuming one’s goal is to know and honor those deities as deeply as possible – again, if this is not your goal, or if you’re more interested in human culture, then I am not addressing you) would be to immerse oneself in the ancient *mindset* in regard to the gods – through lots of research and reading primary sources and all of that good stuff – for a good long while, perhaps several years at least, while simultaneously getting to know the gods in whatever ways one can, and *then* once the mindset has been fully understood and internalized, extrapolating and creating new practices when/if called to.
Imagine your friend set you up on a blind date with a woman he’s known since they were both kids. Of course, you’d want to learn something about this woman ahead of time from your friend – maybe what her favorite flowers are, so you can bring some to the date, or what she’s like, and an interesting story or two about her. But you’ll only be getting that one person’s perspective. His view of her is probably flavored by his own experiences, and maybe he still thinks of her the way she was when they were teenagers and not the way she is now. In any case, once you get to know her, you would put much more weight, hopefully, on what she tells you about herself, and how she acts, than on what he said.
Again, I wonder how much the insistence on adopting an ancient culture in its entirety is a symptom of the tendency for many polytheists to focus more on people than they do on the gods. I am fortunately immune from this because I am a raging misanthrope! And I just have a hard time believing that almost any gods would refuse to accept worship from someone who has gone to the trouble to learn what They want and like and how best to approach Them (and yes, this can most easily and reliably be done by looking first to the past) simply because that person does not in other ways resemble the worshippers of the past, or has some parts of their religious practice that come from other cultures and times. That seems like a more human concern to me.
This is just something that came to me the other night when I was pondering the nature of spirits, and the different types of spirits one might encounter. I ended up with the following breakdown, based on my experiences and reading. I would love to hear what other spirit-workers and animists think of this – types I may have missed, how you would organize it differently, etc.
1. Spirits of Animals, Plants, Fungi and Minerals
a. so-called “Grandfather” spirits of an entire species, e.g., Little Red Man (fly agaric)
b. spirits of individual specimens
2. Spirits of Place (both in nature and man-made)
a. overall genius loci, e.g., “The Presence” on Mt. Washington in New Hampshire
b. wights who live in a specific place and do not leave, such as nymphs
3. The Dead
a. biological ancestors
b. spiritual ancestors – individuals not related by blood but who are treated as ancestors
c. heroes – dead people who have become elevated by a group or culture
d. collective dead – died due to same event or cause (e.g., veterans, victims of tragedy), buried in same place, etc.
4. Faeries (includes alfar, dwarves, goblins, gentry, banshees, brownies, etc.)
a. solitary wights – domestic and wild, tend to stick to same area
b. trooping – always experienced collectively, and move from place to place
Of course, there are lots of spirits who are crossovers between types. For instance, the Slavic rusalki are women who died young, haunt a particular body of water, and are generally treated like faeries, so they would fall into categories 2(b), 3(d) and 4(a). An old oak tree with a powerful spirit would be 1(b) and 2(b). The inhabitants of a cemetery would be 2(b) and 3(d). And so on.