A Different Kind of Closeness

•June 22, 2016 • 12 Comments

The following is something that came up again for me during the aforementioned Bacchic retreat, and I decided I should probably talk about it here (even though it’s difficult, being a very personal matter) in case it resonates with anyone else who is struggling with something similar.

When we think of communion with a deity, many of us tend to think of it in the same terms as we would intimacy with a person. We want to feel that connection with another individual. We want to know Them on a deeper level, and have Them know us, our true hearts. We want to experience, for even a moment, that sense of being together in the same place, face to face.

And this is where we can let our expectations prevent us from an actual closeness with the gods. Because what if the god doesn’t come with a human face, or any face at all? What if the god comes as a rhythm, or a holy name, or the scent of the woods at night, or the pure force of desire, or any number of things we might not recognize if we’re looking for something familiar? And what if, when the god comes, you don’t feel Them near you at all, the way you would a person, but only experience the effects of Their divine presence?

Because here is the thing about me and Dionysos: He is the great Loosener, the Liberator, and as attested by ancient epithet (θυρεπανοίκτης), the Opener of the Door. And I am, above all other things, a door for the spirits (well, my spirits in particular). So what happens when I am taken up by Dionysos, when He gets inside my very heart and soul and opens me up, in a way more intimate than any other contact I could imagine? Well, others make good use of that opening up. I find myself suddenly much closer to my Husband, to my other spirits. I can see and hear Them more clearly, I may even have rapturous communion with Them. But, almost never with Dionysos Himself.

For many years, this frustrated and even devastated me. Where was Dionysos? Where was the wine-soaked, ivy-wrapped, bull-headed man-like Person I was invoking and inviting with my prayers and dancing and offerings? Why didn’t He ever appear when I called out to Him with my usual refrains of “Hail, Opener of the Door!” and “Lusios, release me!” Clearly something was happening, because each time, either immediately or soon thereafter, I would have a direct experience with my spirits or receive inspiration related to Them. But Dionysos, it seemed, never came.

And then I realized I was an idiot. (Not the first time.) That I had, in fact, been failing to recognize the very real communion with the god that had been happening all along. Because what could create more closeness than the full Force of this awesome god of liberation entering into me and pushing aside all my blocks, everything that prevents me from being a clear conduit and clutters up the doorway? How could I ask for a greater intimacy than to have Him lay bare all my vulnerability and make it into something beautiful and meaningful? What greater union than to have Him see me for what I truly am, to recognize that door for the spirits and help strengthen it, and in return… well, it took much too long, but finally I recognized, in return, His true self as well. And it wasn’t bull-headed or dark-eyed or drunken or any of the masks that reveal only those parts we can easily conceive of and put shape and name to. The opening – even though it was an opening meant to let in others, and not Him – the act of opening was the communion. It was the revelation of the god. It was what I had been looking for all along.

And it had been happening for pretty much my whole life. Dionysos first came to me just before my spirits did, back when I was 13 years old. And looking back over the years of devotional practice and spirit-work since, a clear pattern emerged – every time I did a major ritual for or had a significant experience with Dionysos, a breakthrough with my spirits would immediately follow.

That’s not to say I never have the kinds of more familiar or recognizable experiences of divine union with my god. But those seem to come unexpectedly, often outside of a formal ritual context, and entirely on His schedule, not mine.

So when, after the intense and beautiful and ecstatic Dionysian ritual at the retreat, I found myself surrounded not by a sense of Dionysos but by my spirits (so strongly They could be felt tangibly at times, and bearing difficult but powerful messages that I needed to hear), I didn’t waste time being disappointed. His presence had undeniably saturated everything, for all of us, the entire weekend, which was truly lovely – but when I called to the god that night, at the edge of the thundering waves, He came the way I really wanted. The way that gets into the deepest part of me. The way that challenges me and breaks me, and makes me what I am. And that makes me His.

“I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?” (C.S. Lewis)

Give

•June 15, 2016 • 11 Comments

I just spent a long weekend at a coastal retreat with seven other devotees of Dionysos (amongst many other gods). It was an incredible experience and there is much to process, but one thing that stood out for me was how amazing it felt to be surrounded by people making offerings to their gods. Building up shrines of found materials for Hermes. Pouring entire bottles of wine into the waves for Dionysos. Giving thanks to the spirits of place with stones and flowers and, yes, more wine. And not only our collective offerings, but those that were done by individuals quietly, privately, off to the side, just glimpsed on the way to something else I was doing.

When I came back home, I found myself energized by this and wanting to make even *more* offerings. Pouring out the last of my wine for Dionysos instead of drinking it all. Picking some tiny wildflowers and setting them before His shrine. Thanking Hermes for the smooth and safe journey with some coins.

Sure, I make offerings fairly often, but I hadn’t noticed that a bit of lethargy had seeped into my practice in this one area, and it felt so amazing to be revitalized in my desire to give more and more to my gods. It’s not just that the gods are deserving, are awe-inspiring, which of course They are… and it’s not just that I want to keep up my end of the kharis built between us, though of course I do. This is just pure unadulterated giving, giving because I need to express my devotion and love.

And I noticed, too, not for the first time, how much more present the gods feel when we give to Them tangibly, visibly. When we surround ourselves with offerings to Them. Part of that may be the very real effect of Them drawing closer to receive the gifts. Another aspect, I suspect, is the psychological one – by laying out physical items for Them, we reaffirm to our subconscious that They are real, just as real as the objects we are giving to Them.

So, give.
Give to your gods.
Give Them everything you can.
Give Them tangible offerings.
Give when you are feeling enraptured by Their presence.
Give when you are not feeling Their presence at all.
Give when you need, and give to show gratitude, and give for no reason at all.
Give big, as big as you can, as often as you can.
Give together with others who know your gods, and be inspired by the gifts of others.
Give alone, just you and Them, where no one else will see.

Io Dionysos!

Super-Local Polytheism

•June 1, 2016 • 10 Comments

I have been glad to see in recent years a greater awareness of the concept of local-focus polytheism – that we should be orienting our religious practice to the place in which we live. This can take the form of getting to know the nearby landwights, researching historical figures and events that might warrant spiritual recognition (such as hero cultus, commemorative festivals, etc.), melding religious observances with community celebrations, identifying local aspects of European gods (e.g., several American devotees have met a Buffalo Dionysos), even simply caring for the holy or numinous places in one’s region (cleaning up the riverbank, planting trees, etc.).

I have lived in my current city for 10 years now. I have done all of these things and more here – ironically it was only when I moved across the country that I really started paying attention to my environment, having been more oblivious to it and focused on a romanticized idea of Greece in my earlier years as a Hellenic polytheist. I have applied my polytheistic outlook to my bioregion of Cascadia – with focal points including the Oregon coast, the McKenzie River, the Lava Lands, and as far north as the beaches and rainforests of Washington – and more narrowly to my part of the southern Willamette Valley, and the city of Eugene with its many numinous parks and wooded areas, the river, the buttes, and the magical streets and alleys of downtown.

But recently, the gods and spirits have been nudging me toward what I might call a super-local form of practice. And it’s been somewhat of a revelation for me. After all, a person in ancient times – or even 100 or 200 years ago – would rarely if ever have travelled through their entire bioregion, or even as far as we might go just on a day trip by car. And even today, if I were living in a rural area with my own house and land, I would likely pay much more attention to my property and its immediate vicinity, and the spirits living there, than I would to land several miles away. So I started to apply this principle to my current home in an apartment in the city.

Instead of making longer treks out to the wetlands or the buttes (at least two miles away) whenever I want to connect with local nature spirits, I have been spending more time in the ash wood just down the street from me. Within a very small area, there is a wide variety of wildlife, natural features, and surprisingly vibrant spirits (considering it is bound on all sides by human activity). Each time I visit, and leave offerings, and perform small bits of magic, I bind myself more to that place, and further open the veil between the worlds there, making an already numinous spot even more powerful.

Instead of walking all the way downtown or beyond to seek out the wonderful urban treasures of this city in honor of Hermes, I have been exploring my neighborhood, the parts I never went to, off the beaten path. There is so much history here, and so much of it appropriate to Hermes in some way – the unearthed trolley tracks, the marker for our city’s first college – as well as tons of little hidden gems, like the backyard facing an alley where someone accumulated several antique phone booths all together, or the Little Free Libraries scattered along the streets. And each time, again, that I leave offerings for the god in one of these places, I strengthen that spot as holy.

One interesting experiment They guided me to involved printing out two maps. The first shows the entire city, with a circle drawn about a mile in diameter around my house, then ever-widening concentric circles beyond that. The second enlarges that smallest circle around my house so that more detail is shown, with further circles inserted within, down to the smallest with a diameter representing a few blocks. Then I thought about every place I have felt a strong numinous presence in, every place I have visited multiple times to interact with the spirits, and I marked these places on the maps. It was very interesting to see where they fell, how many were actually miles away from me, and likewise how many were clustered more closely to my home. It also helped me visualize which ones were at the same relative distance.

While I haven’t entirely abandoned those places and spirits that are located in the outer circles, I have been paying much more attention to the ones in that smallest inner circle, and it’s really changing my whole experience of where I live, even when I’m just sitting in my apartment – I can feel the web of connections spreading out in all directions. I have a better sense of my most immediate spiritual landscape. When I walk to work, or to the store, or to the flea market (I walk everywhere, having no car), I note the spiritual significance of all the places I’m passing, think about the rituals I have done there, and I seem to be generally just more aware of the spirits everywhere than I was before.

I encourage others to try out this approach, especially those of you living in urban environments where it can sometimes be challenging to connect with the spirits. Resist the urge to spend all your spiritual energy in the most beautiful, obvious natural places and see what you can discover within just a few blocks of your home. You may be surprised, and whatever spirits you encounter may be quite pleased to be acknowledged. It will also help root you more in the place you actually are, and in the present moment as well, both of which are essential to a strong spiritual foundation.

New Approach for Cartomancy Sessions

•May 5, 2016 • 3 Comments

wildwoodDue to some intensified Work I am doing with/for my spirits, I have decided to slightly alter the way I perform cartomancy readings. From now until May 2017, I will be doing cartomancy sessions every Wednesday night (and only then), rather than by request. If there are no clients for a session, I will be doing a reading for myself, in order to keep sharpening my skills through frequent practice. Because I may be doing multiple readings in a session with this new system, and to keep this truly affordable, I am reducing my normal rate during this period to only $20 per question. Please note that is the price for a single question; if you have more than one, I require the same amount for each additional question.

More information, including what exactly I do and instructions for requesting a reading, can be found on my Cartomancy page.

Please note that I will not be doing readings during several intercalary periods in my personal religious calendar, one of which I am currently in the middle of. So the first regular Wednesday session will be May 25. After that, they will be each week unless otherwise noted here on the blog. Any questions received by noon PST on Wednesdays will be included in that week’s session.

I will be posting a reminder here again closer to the date of the first new session, and occasionally afterwards.

Why we worship

•May 3, 2016 • Comments Off on Why we worship

I remember back in the early days of Hellenic Recon-based mailing lists, we used to have a frequent argument over whether or not one could have personal relationships with the gods at all (I’m sure this argument is still happening in some corners of the internet). Some would argue that this was mere fantasy or hubris, and others of us would counter with examples from history and myth, along with our own experiences. But it appears that our calls for people to open their minds have caused some polytheists to open theirs so wide that, as the saying goes, their brains fell out.

Because now I’m seeing a sort of “everything goes” attitude in some circles that accepts any and every experience as automatically legitimate, whether or not there is any confirmation that the gods are even involved anymore. Fuzzy feelings and, frankly, sexual fantasies seem to be taking the place of life-altering encounters with divine forces, and no one can even tell the difference. Now, will this necessarily hurt the people involved? Probably not – I mean, if you stay in the shallow end of the pool all the time, and your experiences are safely contained within your own imagination, there’s not too much room for actual gods to come and shake things up – and it’s when actual gods are involved that things can get perilous (and amazing). But I fear we have lost track of the whole *point* of polytheism in the first place.

When our ancestors made offerings, and sacrifices, they were responding to the very real presence of the gods in their lives, even if they never (or very rarely) encountered Them on a personal level. They knew that the gods controlled, or could at least influence, the forces that directly affected their lives. How well the crops grew, whether the neighboring tribe won the next skirmish between them, the health of their children, even their personal luck. They felt an obligation to the gods in return for all the gifts They had bestowed. And they, quite understandably, felt a holy awe when they witnessed the manifestation of those gods. They were engaged with the Powers on a daily level because They are Powers, not because they thought Zeus (or a statue of Zeus) was cute, or because it was fun to imagine what witty quip Hermes might come up with if He was having a drink with them.

When you worship gods for this reason, it DOES matter whether or not the entity you are contacting is actually the god whose name you’re using. It *definitely* matters whether or not you’re just talking to a mental sock puppet or something that has an independent existence. A mental sock puppet is not going to help you with your village’s drought. A minor spirit or thought-form or egregore erroneously addressed as a specific god may not mind the comparison, but it isn’t going to have the might of that god, or the close relationships with the other gods in the pantheon, or the complex and ancient web of connections and obligations binding it to humanity.

I think we’re also losing track of the point of mysticism, within polytheism. It used to be understood that one of the primary goals of bhakti-type devotion is to know one’s god as deeply as possible. If you encountered, for instance, a character in a story that reminded you of the god, it would provoke you to meditate on why that god could be seen in that mask, what that mask revealed about the god, and ultimately, a desire to get to know all the masks, or even what is behind the masks. But now I see people stopping at the most superficial point. They take some perceived similarity between their god and, say, a television character, and fetishize it to the point where they only see the actor’s face when they think of the god… and eventually, they appear to only be interacting with the idea of a person – not even the idea of a god, and certainly not a Holy Power itself.

And so then you get people questioning the ability of anyone (priest, oracle, etc.) to be able to guide you in your relationship with the god, because of course, they don’t know YOUR god, and YOUR god is so different and idiosyncratic and might only share a name with the god everyone else is worshipping. See now, that used to be a sign I would tell people to watch for, that they might be veering too far – past UPG, into just “making it up” territory (or at the very least, mistaking another deity or spirit for the god in question). Because while you might certainly develop little symbols and cues that are unique to your personal relationship with a deity, once They stop resembling the historical deity known by others in any significant way, it’s much more likely that you are in error than that everyone else through all time has been.

Now if you just want to feel the love and acceptance of a disembodied personality, and you get that from thinking fondly of your favorite character and using a name from mythology while you’re doing it, then I guess it doesn’t really matter to anyone else. But you’re probably not getting even close to an actual deity, the kind of deity who sends earthquakes or guides dead souls or is the raw power of love itself. And more importantly, the gods are not getting Their due that way. The right relationship our ancestors maintained between humanity and the Powers is not being fed. And if not by so-called polytheists, then who will take up that challenge? Certainly not the predominant type of humanistic or monotheistic people in our current culture, that’s for sure.

Of course, I’m not advocating against personal relationships with gods and spirits! Anyone who knows me and my spiritual life knows that would be pretty hypocritical. I just think we should be striving for authentic experiences, and wary of experiences that always match our expectations or desires. (I mean, ever notice that people are always seeing their gods as very attractive and popular actors? That alone should be a warning sign.) And that we should always remember why it is that humanity engages with the gods in the first place. There are things more important than having someone to share your morning coffee with, or make snarky jokes with. If the experiences you are seeking are no different than those you could have with a person (or an imaginary friend), if your devotions are indistinguishable from fandom, then it’s really not about a religious practice anymore. And we *need* religious practice – as a species. We need to be actually connecting with the real and powerful gods.

I sincerely hope that we do not lose potential future devotees, ones who would have carried on traditions and maintained that crucial right relationship with the Powers, because they come to modern polytheism looking for meaningful spiritual connection and find only swoony odes to Benedict Cumberbatch.

Self-Published Book Design

•April 6, 2016 • 8 Comments

wAs I’m staring at a relatively small but still significant-to-me tax bill and wondering how to pay it, I thought I might take a moment to mention again that I offer book design services to self-published authors.

I know there are a lot of polytheists and other pagans writing books and using print-on-demand companies to get their work out there, but who need some help formatting the interior, designing the cover, etc. I have extremely reasonable rates (especially in comparison to the competition) and specialize in books with a pagan focus (although I am happy to work on any kind of project). I provide professional results in a very timely manner. I even do copyediting if you need help with the manuscript itself. I have done all of the Nysa Press books by Sannion, the Sanngetall Press books by Galina, the Walking the Worlds journal, and a variety of others.

Visit the Winged Words website and check out my Portfolio as well as the Testimonials. And please, if you happen to know anyone else who might need my services, pass it on!

None of this really matters (a quick reality check)

•March 30, 2016 • 13 Comments

I made a comment along these lines to a private group recently but felt it bore repeating and expanding upon here.

Sometimes it feels very overwhelming when the pagan blogosphere explodes with the latest brouhaha and everyone is arguing and it seems like the community might fracture yet again into even smaller sectors, or that the future of all polytheism is doomed.

I find it helpful to remind myself that, if I were not online at all, or didn’t read these particular blogs, I would have no idea about any of this going on. I’d just be happily going about my own spiritual practices, and not worrying about what people I don’t even know said about stuff. And then it would all blow over, or move on to the next debacle, and I’d still be doing my thing. And it wouldn’t actually matter at all. ​Because it doesn’t.

You can still worship the gods, however you feel like (yes, even if someone insists you are wrong). You can still go down to the nearest nymph-haunted tree and say hello. You can still celebrate the seasonal changes, or make your magical herbal concoctions, or going on long astral journeys to the otherworld, or whatever else fulfills you. No words on a screen can stop you. The opinions of strangers may occasionally be a good source of fodder for reflection, but they don’t control you. And even if somehow things move off the screen and into your real-world religious life (as they did for the Bakcheion crew recently, which is the only reason I even entered the fray this time), you can still meet your obligations to your gods, even if you have to get creative. (Think Dionysos will be losing a ritual in His honor because we had to withdraw from a silly conference? No! He’ll be getting a much better one, privately, because we are still devotees first and foremost. Big public events can be fun but they should not be the bread and meat of our traditions or our personal religious lives.)

Remember that there are tons of polytheists out there just living day to day, honoring their gods and spirits, even devoting their whole lives to it, who have no awareness of or interest in the online “communities” and are totally unaffected by this stuff. Even if you don’t want to be one of them, you can remember to keep some perspective.

 
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