And, not or

The title of this post is how Anomalous Thracian describes the relationship of the terms “Pagan” and “polytheist” in his life, a concept he reminded me of when I interviewed him about his latest project.  E is unusual insofar as e adopted the polytheist label first, while most of us who consider ourselves both used Pagan before or concurrently with polytheist.  (In this context, I’m using “polytheist” to describe those folks who do not experience their gods as being facets of the One; we have been called “hard” and “devotional” and “immersive” and “traditional” polytheists, but no one term really encapsulates the mindset and also disincludes all others, so expect other adjectives to be proposed as the conversation continues.)  AT recognizes that not all Pagans are polytheist as e understands the term, and that not all polytheists think Pagan is meaningful to describe their path, but they aren’t mutually exclusive.

While I’ve been tentative about the language lest I inadvertently offend, I”m very much in tune with calling myself a polytheist and a Pagan.  The concept of deity is simply beyond human understanding, and any cosmology we construct is going to fall short.  The concepts of “separate” and “individual” may be utterly meaningless to the gods, or their individualness may be so far beyond my own that it would make my brain melt.  How separate (or not!) the gods are from me and each other is far less important than having a cosmology in place so I can relate to them.  I relate to the gods as individuals, but I’ve given up any hope of knowing if that’s the “one true way” or not.  In fact, a good amount of my experience contradicts that worldview, but I’m not about to be confused by the facts once my mind is made up!

Considering how Pagans react to one of our own choosing a different path, I want to be quite clear that I didn’t turn my back on the last 26 years of my faith journey this past Sunday morning.  I also didn’t accept Jesus as my lord and savior, nor did I make a bargain with any particular god that I am going to worship no other before em.  In fact, what happened the other day technically wasn’t something that I did at all.  Rather, it was done when I was in another room.

During its monthly Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business, the members of the Society of Friends in my town decided t290px-Quaker_star-T.svghat yes, I was clear to become a Friend, or Quaker, and that they in fact welcomed such a thing.  The decision was recorded as a minute, which will be published in the local Quaker newsletter (which I have edited since the beginning of the year).  The reading of the minute is the only ceremony involved, and I missed it not because it was secret, but because I had committed to teaching First Day School to the kiddies this morning.

Of course, there are likely questions about this.  Because I don’t have frequent readers, and thus no frequently asked questions, I’m going to guess what they might be:

  • Did you just convert to Christianity?  Well, no.  Quakerism was definitely founded by a Christian named George Fox, who preached about the direct connection with deity.  Most Friends are Christ-centered, but they include nontheist, humanist, and even Quaker Pagans among their number.
  • Do they know you’re a Pagan?  I haven’t hidden that fact, but Quakers don’t exactly wear their beliefs on their sleeves, either; for one thing, it would probably not be appropriate to the spirit of plain dress.  I made it a point to mention that fact when I was meeting with a clearness committee about becoming a member.  That led to questions about how I might relate to Friends who were uncomfortable with my Paganness, but I wasn’t asked about those beliefs, nor was it suggested that I should renounce them.  One elder in my meeting (mine!  that’s exciting to write!) said that I don’t have to speak in that language, but I do need to be able to hear it.  Another Quaker I met at a Pagan event called it “listening in tongues.”
  • How does this relate to your Pagan practices, anyway?  Considering that Hellenismos is a religion of spoken prayers, offerings, and outward ritual which I perform daily in solitude, while Quakerism is a path of silent worship in groups, the two dovetail surprisingly well in my life.  I was led to each in times of emotional turmoil.  While I cannot always be sure what voice I am hearing in meeting for worship, I am able to more easily listen to my gods there then when I am pouring libations and reciting prayers as offerings.  In fact, both are orthopraxic, focusing more on the practice than on the belief, and each requires discernment to tell what’s a sign (or message, in Quaker parlance), and what just an interesting coincidence or one’s own desires (the rush to interpret such as a message by a Quaker can be called “notional thinking”) be presumed to be more important than they really are.
  • Didn’t you get a sign from Ares to follow Hellenismos?  And now you’ve gone and joined one of the historic peace churches?  That did happen, yes.  Ares looks over my shoulder as I write, because he’s my gatekeeper god and reminds me of my faith.  Having never been to war, and not seeing any benefit to the enterprise, I can relate to the fact that no small number of the offerings my ancestors made to him were likely to turn war away from their shores, because they wanted peace.  I believe in peace, and there is a long tradition of asking Ares for peace.  I don’t see a conflict here.
  • But are you sure this isn’t just the first step down the slippery slope of betrayal of the Pagan community?  On one hand, I haven’t a clue.  I trust my gods.  I listen to them.  Jesus appeared to me exactly once during my years as a Christian, to tell me that he was cool with me giving him up so long as I didn’t give up the gods.  Ares showed up to tell me that I had done just that, and to pull it together.  This is my path, and I’m going to follow it towards wisdom, betterment of myself, and to serve them the best I can.  On the other hand, ordinary Pagans probably come and go all the time without eliciting feelings of betrayal.  I’m not Star Foster or Teo Bishop, I haven’t made waves, so I doubt anyone would feel personally wounded if I did leave Paganism . . . except for those gods I’ve sworn oaths to, of course.
  • Aren’t oaths a problem for Quakers?  My short answer to this is, “These aren’t the oaths you’re looking for.”  The Quaker opposition is to swearing to tell the truth as in a court of law, because it creates a double standard of truth.  I agree, so far as that narrow understanding of oath is concerned, but oaths signify much deeper commitments than truth-telling, and to reject them entirely is to throw the baby out with the bath water.

So I’ve gone and added another religion to my identity.  I do so with humble respect for the long tradition into which I have been accepted, and with profound thanks to the gods who led me to attend a meeting in the first place.  It may take me a lifetime to express in words what I know to be true:  that this decision allows me to better serve gods and mortals alike.

When we support each other our communities grow stronger

Originally posted on The House of Vines:

The deadline to get your submission in for Óski’s Gift is fast approaching. Odin will be choosing the winner through divination on the Autumn Equinox so all entries must be in three days before then, or Saturday, September 20th for the calendrically challenged.

Óski’s Gift is a scholarship our household is contributing $300 towards twice a year, awarded to people who are doing work on behalf of their gods and communities. All that one has to do to be eligible is send a short (900-1300 word) description of what that work is to Galina at Anyone, from any polytheist tradition, can enter. If you would like to contribute money in addition to what we are offering for the scholarship contact Galina.

Please help spread this around on social media. There are lots of folks out there doing amazing stuff who could benefit from a little extra cash. When we…

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This is a fairly narrow form of divination. On your birthday, prepare a question in your mind. Prepare two rough-torn squares of brown paper and place each in a different color Chuck Taylor. Designate one shoe for yes and the other for no, and wear them throughout the day.

When you remove them, do a pencil rubbing on each piece of paper and interpret the results.

Polytheist Leadership Conference: it’s a wrap

After reading some of my disjointed thoughts about the first Polytheist Leadership Conference, I should not be surprised that Rhyd Wildermuth is also at a loss for words.  So much of what happens when people with a common interest come together in person is simply hard to express in writing.  Whether it’s this conference or any other excuse to get people who chat online together in person, the magic is in reminding us that human contact makes human community happen, not the internet.  Many people pointed out that this conference would not have happened were it not for the internet, but saying that online interaction has value is not the same is believing it’s a proxy for real contact.

It is not.

Online, self-identified polytheists circle the wagons against the perceived oppressions brought about by pantheist and monist despots, or squabble over points of theology so fine that in larger religions, they have caused long and bloody wars.  But in person?  People celebrated their similarities, and sought to learn from diversity.  Oh, there were a couple of times when I saw someone get a little hot under the collar when a speaker suggested that eir assertion was absolute rather than hypothesis, but that was not the norm.  Indeed, I was only very rarely even asked which gods I honor; people were more interested in the work I do in their service than in their identities.

The conversations I had will roll around in my head for some time before I think they will emerge as coherent writing, if at all.  Is it more moral to sacrifice the animals I eat to my gods than to buy bits of their carcasses in town?  Can someone in the United States today prosper and be wealthy without being culpable for all the evil that money is used to wreak?  Is it possible for people who have an unwavering belief in the concept of binary human gender worship the same gods alongside queer, asexual, and metagender p0lytheists?

My notes from the sessions are sparse, but my feelings of spiritual fullness are strong.  Those feelings will guide my interactions with these people in the months and years to come, because once there’s a personal connection formed, it changes the calculus of how we relate.  No matter how much to agree with or reject the writings of a particular individual online, eir persona is built at least as much in your own head as it is in eirs.  Once we talk in person, the judgments we form come from a different set of assumptions.  It’s not necessarily a better set of assumptions, but it’s at least based on several of the senses rather than channeling everything through our overworked eyes and then expect our brains to interpret the bits that make it through.

This is human connection.  This is how community is built.  This is what each person who was at the conference must carry forth, because so many more of us didn’t make it and there will always be people who can’t make the trip.  I feel incredibly fortunate to have had this conference in my own back yard; polytheism and Paganism alike being such small movements that long trips to such events are the norm.  My sense is that there may be a regional PLC movement that develops, and I hope that it happens that way, because for all the wonder the internet brings, there are not enough words in all the languages of humanity for it to bring understanding without human contact.

Stone soup

In his closing remarks at the Polytheist Leadership Conference Sannion compared it to that old tale of collaborative food. People contributing knowledge and wisdom and helping hands. The traditions represented were diverse but the conversations were largely about similarities rather than differences.

Ancestors, how we honor them and how the influence us, figured prominently into the entire conference. There is talk about other conferences of this sort being held I other regions and other times, and I’m curious of a similar thread will be present when it is.

Polytheist shock troops

Kenaz Filan had someone in his session here at the Polytheism Leadership Conference remark that it can be intimidating for someone to try to become a polytheist, because they read writings like his and Sannion’s and might be overwhelmed by how much is asked of them.

Not so, he said: those are the “polytheism shock troops” who allow the rest of us to mostly honor the gods by leading our own lives with excellence and in their honor.

I am so glad others are the shock troops so I don’t have to be.


I wind up this month with libations to Hekate and my ancestors, making a Deipnon feast as I have now for several years at the dark of the moon.  The cycle has come ’round again, and the suns sets tonight upon the first of the lilies blooming in my yard.  Indeed, it is nearly time again for me to celebrate the festival of the lilies.  And again this year, I can’t help but wonder how this festival is related to Anthesteria.

The easy answer is nothing.  Anthesteria is a Dionysian festival of life, death, and a bit of craziness.  Dionysos has 2014-06-24 11.59.59recently had an impact on me (I no longer make my libations with grape juice because of him, in fact), but we’re not tight.  In the two years I’ve done so, I have used this festival to honor all of the gods, not just the one or those close to him.  This might be a better time of year to celebrate Anthesteria in my region, though, since it shows up in the miserable part of February, long before those grape vines are a’bloomin.  And that old Athenian festival has a strong kthonic component, which my celebration doesn’t.

Well, maybe more about death than I think.  Since I’ve been pondering ancestor questions, I can’t help but notice the collection of events which occur in my life in the weeks leading up to the lilies blooming.  Memorial Day, my father’s birthday and death day, mrking the loss of my cat, anniversaries of other known ancestors.  It’s no wonder I feel close to my ancestors now, and it’s curious that it comes just before the blooming of the lilies.

Since I haven’t fixed the date of this festival, I am going to set aside the fifth of this Hellenic month for it.  That will be this coming Thursday.  By then I hope to have some insight:  is this just a leading towards more honoring of my ancestors, or a specific link between this festival and those ancestors?  Are there gods or spirits which I should, or should not, be honoring at this time?  Should I be hitting the grape juice again, or otherwise preparing special offerings?  Is this actually Anthesteria in a form which is regionally and culturally appropriate to my experience?  Or maybe some kind of Almostheria which inevitably ties the fleeting beauty of a flower with the fleeting essence of life itself?  Or does the timing of the blooms signal a rebirth after a period of honoring the blessed dead?  That suggests Persephone’s ascent to me, or the journey of a psychopompos.

These answers will come from knowledge of the past, awareness of myself, and discernment of the will of the gods.  Whether I unpack the nature of this festival in the next week or allow it to unfold over the next decade, the beauty will be as delicate as that of a tiger lily, which like other flowers can be appreciated up close or from afar, but is most beautiful when it is regarded in both ways at the same time.

It seems that the more I know, the more questions there are to ask — which is not a bad thing.