A Very Belated Imbolc

Imbolc comes on the first of February—which, as you have probably noticed, has come and gone. Again this is rather belated due to mental health troubles, but hey! Now that we’ve received a stay at home order, I have plenty of time to play catch-up, so let’s begin:

Imbolc is traditionally associated with ewes, in particular the pregnant ones who are getting ready to bear their lambs in the spring, as well as cleansing. The mid-point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, it is very much a celebration in the anticipation of the budding fertility of spring. For this reason, though I made the argument that Yule could be a time to honor Gerdr, it only seems appropriate that Imbolc may also be an excuse to hold a blót for Gerdr.

1200px-Skirnir's_message_to_Gerd

Skirnir’s Message to Gerd (1908) by W. G. Collingwood

 

To interweave the more traditional elements of Imbolc, milk could be offered to Gerdr. If you are lucky enough to have a garden, it would be particularly appropriate to pour out an offering of milk onto the soil. If you don’t have the privilege of having a full-blown garden but have planters in which you might grow a small herb garden or other such plants, pouring a small amount of milk into the soil of your planters in honor of Gerdr’s waking and the thawing of winter would certainly suffice (just be careful to not pour too much lest you end up having to deal with a sour milk smell coming out of your planters).

Another good way to pass the time on Imbolc is starting seeds for your garden or planters. The growing of your own food and herbs, even if you’re only able to grow a small amount, is additionally a really good way to exercise a degree of self reliance, which we have previously discussed as being one of the primary values of Rökkatru. So starting seeds on this day both aligns well with the traditional significance of this day, as well as offering an opportunity to start a practice, even a small an humble one, of self reliance.

As always, if you did anything special this Imbolc or have any other ideas how to color this holiday for a Rökkatru practice, I would love to hear them!

Skål.

Time According to the Babylonians

In Mesopotamia, a region long settled by other peoples, the Babylonians had to establish their dominance. By adopting various myths from the Sumerians, and then amending them, they created a sense of the long view of time. Into this invention of time stretching into the infinite past, the Babylonians inserted themselves, thereby breaking the timeline into two parts: before and after their arrival. They grafted the legacy of the Sumerians to themselves. Moreover, possessing a concrete sense of time, the Babylonians then subdivided it in a number of ways, each division of time serving a religious or imperial need. They bifurcated time into two distinct parts – one: circular and repeating, the other: an arrow into the future. These two splits of time complemented each other in the Babylonian mind.

Every New Year which began at the Spring Equinox, the Creation Myth (Enuma Elish) was read. This myth begins with the original creation of the world by Tiamat, the God of Chaos, and Apsu, the God of Waters. Later Anu, a God from the succeeding generation becomes the “Father of the Gods.” Eventually, He cedes his powers to Enlil, from yet a newer generation of Gods, who seeks to overthrow the original Gods. After Apsu is killed, Tiamat wages war on the newer Gods. In desperation, Enlil goes to Marduk, the principal deity of Babylon, for help. On the condition that He is made the Ruler of the Gods, Marduk agrees. After killing Tiamat, Marduk remakes the world from her body.

This creation story cements Babylon’s place in Mesopotamian history. After ages of rule by other peoples and their Gods, Mesopotamia is then recreated by the Babylonians. Generations of Gods follow each other ending with Marduk. Thus, Babylon becomes the terminus point for the timeless past, and the future that is now Babylon. The ritual of reading the Creation Myth every New Year was the intersection of circle with arrow time, and also the combination of both.

In its various forms, the Gilgamesh Epic highlights the nexus of time and immortality. Within this epic is the story of a Great Deluge. Like the Creation Story, the time in the Great Flood is broken into two halves, the world before Babylon and after. According to this myth, the list of Kings before the Flood numbered ten. After the Flood, the Kings reigned from the City of Kish (in Sumer), with reigns consisting of 300 years to 1,200 years. In this story, comes a sense of a long past, a rupture, and then the start of a new age. Because Kish had great symbolic significance, the myth allows Babylon to become the heir to the ancient civilization of Sumer. The story gives to the people of Babylonia, the sense of a great destiny. Babylon is the New World remade from the older world. Once more, time in Babylonian perception was broken, and then welded together again.

The Gilgamesh Epic, itself, focuses on the questions of death and immortality. After his friend, Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh comes to dislike death. Resolving to end death for all, he searches for the key of immortality. During his adventures, various Gods tell him to enjoy life and accept death gracefully. Through a series of mishaps, Gilgamesh is denied immortality for himself and his people. However, he realizes that his city will exist long after his death. His immortality would come from his legacy, which is his city. Babylonians saw this in terms of themselves as the legacy of Sumer. Again it was presented as endless time that was disrupted.

In Babylon, the year was divided into two halves – summer and winter, in explicit circle time. In the myth of Ishtar’s (Inanna) Descent Into the Underworld, winter comes about when Ishtar sends her husband Tammuz (Dumuzi) to take her place in the Land of the Dead. In desperation, Tammuz then seeks help from his sister, Belit-seri (Geshtinanna). After much negotiation with the Gods of the Underworld, both siblings decide to take each other’s place for six months at a time.

Ishtar’s husband, Tammuz was the God of Crops and Flocks. The Babylonians saw Him as the life blood of the land and the sheep. When He went into the Underworld, winter came. At that time his sister, Belit-seri reemerged, and presided over the autumn harvest and wine making. She became the Goddess of Wine and Grapes.

At the Spring Equinox, the Babylonians started their New Year. To commemorate this, the King would enact a sacred marriage with the temple priestess of Ishtar. Their mating was to reaffirm the marriage of Ishtar, the Goddess of Fertility, with her husband, Tammuz. These marriage rites was to ensure that the King was accepted as one of the Gods, and blessed by Ishtar, who also blessed the crops. This was circle time, repeated every year at the same day.

In contrast, the Autumn Equinox was the beginning of the Royal Year. At this time, the King offered First Fruits for the blessings of the Gods for him and his city. Afterwards, he would begin a project such as building a temple. Counting regnal years in Babylon started with the harvest, and was often named for the King’s latest project. The passage of time was demarked by the reigns of kings and their deeds. Again the Babylonian sense of time was divided into two parts, one for the Gods and the other for the kings. Regnal time was inserted as an arrow to the future into the circle time of the harvests.

In their daily lives, the Babylonians were very conscious of the passage of time. They measured days, months, and years (with a nineteen month calendar to tract solar and lunar eclipses). They used artificial time to track governmental and commercial activity for regnal years and fiscal years. Against this backdrop of dividing time into smaller units came the sense of timelessness that rose from living in Mesopotamia. Being conscious of being a part of a succession of kingdoms in the region, the Babylonians both merged their myths with the Sumerians, and divided them into two parts, before Babylon, and after. Time for the Babylonians was to split into two parts, one an arrow pointing towards the future, whilst the other a circle that returned back to Babylon.

Works Used.

“Ancient Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses.” U.K. Higher Education Project. 2011. Web. http://oracc.museum.upenn.edu/amgg/index.html .
Black, Jeremy and Anthony Green, “Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia.” University of Texas: Austin. 1992.
Cicero, Sandra, “A Guide to the Babylonian Tarot.” Llewellyn: Woodbury, MN, 2006. Print.
King, L.W., “Babylonian Religion and Mythology.” Wisdom Library. 1903. Web. http://www.wisdomlib.org/mesopotamian/book/babylonian-religion-and-mythology/d/doc7086.html .
Cohen, Mark, “Festivals and Calendars of the Ancient Near East Calendar,” PDF. 2015.
Dickie, Lloyd and Paul Boudreau, “Awakenings Higher Consciousness: Guidance from Ancient Egypt and Sumer.” Inner Traditions: Rochester (VT). 2015.
Jacobsen, Thorkild, “The Treasures of Darkness.” Yale University Press: New Haven. 1976.

Kami of Snow & Rain

Having woken up to a beautiful snow day this morning, I thought today might be a nice opportunity to discuss one of my favorite weather divinities: a dragon who brings snow and rain, Kuraokami.

Within the Japanese Shinto religion, you will find many spirits or kami. While the veneration of major kami like Amaterasu-Omikami has become fairly well-known, with proper Shinto lineages even becoming available in other countries (such as the Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America), still many more kami remain largely unknown outside of Japan.

According to the Kojiki, when the kami of fire Kagutsuchi-no-Kami was born, he burned his mother Izanami-no-Mikoto and caused her death. Grief-stricken and infuriated, his father Izanagi-no-Mikoto brings his sword down upon the young fire kami, with several more kami then being born from Kagutsuchi-no-Kami’s blood. It is from the blood that collected on the sword that Kuraokami was born. The Nihongi (or Nihon Shoki) records a generally similar account of Kuraokami’s birth, with the main difference being that Kagutsuchi-no-Kami’s body is cut into pieces, with each piece becoming a new kami. And thus, the dragon god of the valleys’ birth provides his only major myth. In modern practice, there are several official shrines in Japan where Kuraokami is venerated, some of which he shares with other weather kami.

At this point, I’m going to focus on the experience of working with this kami as an American who was completely new to Shinto practices, far removed from the Japanese culture of origin. First, I have set up my altar to Kuraokami utilizing the traditional shrine articles, which is essentially a fixed set of small dishes that each have an assigned purpose; these articles are used for the kami’s offerings. My altar also utilizes other traditional symbols, such as the shrine mirror and a red torii (sacred gate). I have white candles flanking the altar, and a holder for Japanese stick incense (I favor the Morning Star brand’s sandalwood sticks). Now, in a “true” Shinto home altar, these items would all be sitting in front of a kamidana–a small wooden altar box housing the kami’s ofuda. The ofuda is a talisman (usually paper) that one would acquire at a Shinto shrine, and would be inscribed with the venerated kami’s name; it is customarily replaced annually. However, as an American without ready annual access to one of Kuraokami’s shrines, I must admit that my home altar to him lacks an ofuda; instead, I have placed a statue of a traditional Japanese dragon in its place to signify the kami’s presence, which Kuraokami has been understanding and accepting of in my experience with him.

As far as my personal experience in serving Kuraokami, I’ve found him to be a particularly interactive and responsive spirit; in addition to having answered petitions for snow (or to delay it) with considerable reliability, he’s also granted me protection. Aside from making the traditional offerings (which includes rice and salt) using the altar articles mentioned earlier, I will also occasionally use separate dishes to offer other foods, especially when putting forth or repaying requests; as an added note, after the offering is made, the food may be eaten. When approaching this kami, I would certainly recommend making your respect for him clear, as he is strong and can be rather proud. Also, when approaching any kami, an understanding of Shinto purity standards and practices is absolutely necessary.

Here’s an example of a general prayer I’ll use for a common day’s practice, composed with inspiration from translations of prayers used at the Tsubaki Grand Shrine previously mentioned:
Humbly, I approach the Kami in prayer. In the Expanse of High Heaven dwell the exalted Kami. Heavenly Kami, Earthly Kami, all the many myriad of Kami, I offer my respect and gratitude, and ask that You unite and hear my prayer.
Kuraokami, who dwells in the valleys, divine bestower of snow and rain, born of the bloody union of Izanagi-no-Okami’s sword and Kagutsuchi-no-Kami’s body, I offer my reverence and gratitude, and humbly beseech You to cleanse my being of all impurities.
Kuraokami, all Heavenly and Earthly Kami, all the many myriad of Kami, I pray that You bless me with clarity and protection. Guide and teach me.
Sincerely, I speak these words.

Let’s Talk About Help

Sooner or later, you will likely need it. But as the saying goes, it’s hard to find good help these days. With so many people trying to simply cash in on the current magical trends, I thought it might do us well to take a moment to reflect on the red flags and qualifications you could keep an eye out for when looking for professional spiritual assistance.

The reasons that you may need a spiritual professional are as diverse as the specialties of the professionals out there. The most common are probably readers—those whose profession relies on some method of divination. Another common generality of specialty you may find in professional practitioners is practical magic; these practitioners may be hired to perform spells or create magical items for everyday needs, such as getting a job or protecting a home. One more general specialization I would like to mention, and perhaps the most harmful when performed poorly, is those whose professional spiritual practices involve spirit work. Most obviously, these are the people who are often sought out when harmful spiritual conditions are at work, such as a malevolent spirit invading someone’s home or attaching directly to the person. Sometimes, burning a bit of white sage just isn’t going to cut it; you need a professional.

Let’s take this one step at a time: first, let’s say you think you may have a serious spiritual problem. There are a variety of professional readers you can seek out to divine the nature and severity of your problem; gathering information is a good first step to finding the most effective solution. But finding a reliable reader can be daunting when everyone and their pet dog is now an expert after buying their first tarot deck; unfortunately, as with other types of practitioners, we don’t have any quantitative, empirical method that would allow us to rate the credibility of a reader. There are a few organizations out there that offer training and their own certification, but these still aren’t common to find when shopping around the psychic market, and plenty of gifted readers don’t belong to any such organization. Your best tool here is your own judgment; ask questions. An honest, trustworthy reader will likely be willing to tell you anything you may need to know regarding their public practice; evasiveness regarding the subject the reader is expecting you to pay money for is not usually a good sign. How long have they been practicing, and how long have they been doing so professionally? Where did they learn, or who did they study under? How does the particular method of divination they use work, or how is it interpreted? (Remember, allow for divination methods that are more intuitive rather than strictly structured, such as scrying for a popular example.) Another valuable source of information can be other clients. Did the reader behave professionally when dealing with them or speaking about them? Was the reader able to offer advice or remedies if problems appeared in the reading? In the age of the internet, you can buy everything online, even psychic readings; look to see if this reader has any client reviews available. If you can’t glean any useful information from either asking the practitioner or asking the clientele, then I would consider the practice suspect. (Keep in mind, you may not always be able to question the clientele; they may be unwilling to discuss the matter, or they may be unavailable. In the case of the folk practices I perform, although I personally do not do so professionally, I know that many practitioners can be hard to find and often require asking your friend’s acquaintance’s hairdresser for directions, as many practitioners in my tradition are more secretive.) At the same time, I have of course learned to be skeptical of any practitioners who seem to spend more time building themselves up and advertising than they do actually practicing.

Now you’ve found your professional reader, and your reading is underway. Often times, professional magical practitioners will offer divination as only a facet of their services, also performing spells or other works as other available services. This is where you may encounter the age-old scam of the vague, impending doom, a doom from which only the reading practitioner can preserve you, provided you pay further fees for the other work that averting this otherwise-sure doom requires. In short, this is a good time to seek out another reader. A fellow conjure practitioner once advised me, if I have a candle reading performed, to look at the bottom of the candle beforehand and ensure the wick is centered so that the reading is not being mundanely influenced to appear more severe. Put plainly, use sense and healthy skepticism to ensure that you’re not being taken for a ride. On the opposite end of the spectrum, also pay attention to the reader’s mannerisms and keep in mind that they are likely reading you as well. Do they come across as genuine and sincere? Or are they just telling you what they think you want to hear, so that you will come back again and pay for another happy reading?

Now you’ve probably seen one or two readers, and gotten reliable readings that felt right and gave you some useful information about your particular spiritual problem. It’s time to find someone who can offer the remedies you need based on this information; you may return to your reader for further work if they offer it and you feel comfortable with them, or you may seek out another spiritual practitioner altogether. (Again, ask the same types of questions when considering this practitioner as you did when considering your reader.) When seeking spiritual aid, ideally, we would all like to find a professional practitioner whose practice is in the same or similar tradition as our own, but we won’t always have that luxury. If you truly do have an emergency, I advise finding a practitioner who seems qualified and experienced in the type of problem you’re having, rather than putting off treatment until you find the practitioner you’d most enjoy having to dinner after. On another note entirely, it is a sad truth that when searching through available magical practitioners–as practice is part of the work, and thus may necessitate your involvement–you may come across one of the creeps who unfortunately lurk in this business out of a desire to create an illusion of power and authority about themselves. Do not let a practitioner coerce you into doing something that you are very uncomfortable with or put pressure on you. Ask about an alternative method to remedy your problem; if they offer none, find another practitioner and get a second opinion.

Last, a note about payment. Many people today may be able to offer you spiritual assistance of various means for no charge whatsoever. For this discussion, however, I am focusing on those professionals for whom their practice is a major source of income. That being said, although many people nowadays don’t seem to want to pay magical practitioners any more than they want to pay artists and graphic designers, being charged for a spiritual consultation with a professional spiritual practitioner is not a red flag by any means. Like the rest of us, these people are doing a job and need the income from that job to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. Personally, the rent on my apartment is a few hundred dollars, not a few hundred acts of kindness–and we all have to be able to pay the bills, even spiritual practitioners. (Were this not the case, perhaps I would become a professional practitioner myself!) Another thing practitioners must pay for, especially if you’re receiving a spiritual remedy that requires spellwork, is the tools and ingredients used for that spell. If someone asked me to perform love work for them, using my new red figure candles that just cost me $10 each at the only local magical shop that stocks these items and the small amount of saffron I have in my herbal stash (still probably about $10-15 worth as it’s such an expensive herb), then I certainly would not be willing to do so for free. But another important, though often overlooked, effect of paying for spiritual consultation is that it assigns value to the assistance being received–something is being given for that which is being received. It discourages those who would simply waste the practitioner’s time, and leave without truly taking to heart anything that has been offered.

At last, I would like to leave you with a final note underpinning all of this: trust your intuition when dealing with people.

When the Gods Seem Distant

Sometimes, it becomes hard to hear the gods. Sometimes, it feels like the gods are no longer present. In reality, what has happened is that we have lost touch with our ability to communicate with the gods. We have stopped reaching out, stopped turning inward. In those moments, we have become too focused on the realities of our physical lives. 

Our lives are full of noise. In Western society, everyone is always busy. Being productive is a way of life – to the point that not doing something productive causes anxiety and induces shame. Because time is considered valuable, and not producing something is often viewed as wasteful. That means to tune-in to society we have to tune-in to the noise and we end up tapping into that need to produce more. To constantly create something, constantly be on the move. Just never slowing down. 

To hear the gods, though, we have to slow down. We have to breathe. We have to take the moments that come to us in-between the chaotic reality of our lives and just breathe. It is in those spaces that the gods are heard most clearly – is it any wonder that most people miss those moments? 

It’s very easy to tune-in to the stress caused by a busy schedule. I understand it myself – I’m a graduate student in my last semester of my Master’s program. In the next 6 weeks, I need to write somewhere between 50-70 pages to complete my thesis. In the next 8 weeks, I have to also write two 8-10 page book reviews for my African Politics class. In the next 14 weeks, I also have to write a 25-30 page paper on how development plans often fail in Africa for that same class. On top of that, I am the President of my school’s Pagan Student Association and the secretary for the Graduate History Student Association. I’m also a graduate teaching assistant who has to attend lectures, take attendance, and grade essay-based exams. On top of all of that, I have responsibilities as one of Loki’s priest, the founder of Loki’s Wyrdlings, and the Director of Loki University. I understand first-hand what it is like to be busy – my life might as well be the poster for what a fast-paced American life looks like. 

Some people will look at that list and say “wow, no way could I do that much.” I understand that – sometimes I don’t know how I do that much. And then I remember that I have ADHD and PTSD and that staying busy for me is literally a lifesaver. It keeps me from getting too caught up in the trauma of my past (research has shown that exposure therapy is actually incredibly damaging for people with PTSD though it is good for anxiety disorders and phobias). It also keeps me from getting bored. 

So how, in a life so busy, do I manage to find the time to speak with the gods? To communicate with them, to ensure that I don’t feel abandoned by them and that they are present? I make the time. I take the moments in-between the crazy pace of my life and I force them into a slower tempo. I listen as hard as I can, and I do the best I can to give the gods the same kind of attention I give to my friends when they are talking to me. Most importantly, I do the best I can to make consistent offerings to the gods. 

It is through offerings that the connections we have to the divine realm are maintained. It is through sacrifice that we enable the gods to communicate with us most clearly. Our offerings feed and nourish them – they are the subsistence the gods need. While we need physical food and drink to live physical lives, the gods need spiritual food. The gods are heavily present in my life because I make a point to make sure they are fed. I do the best I can to take the hints I am given. 

As an example, I attended a lecture from a guest speaker yesterday. He ended up discussing how he converted to Christianity near the end, which was a bit of a surprise twist considering the topic had nothing to do with Christianity. He talked about how he held no belief in healing, and then he found that the Christian god healed him of his addictions. He asked for healing and promised to tell the story in exchange for that healing – he has kept his end of the bargain, and his addictions have never returned. 

That story reminded me of the importance of sacrifice – of the exchanges we make with the gods. A lot of Christians will say that you should never make deals or bargains or try to broker with a god, but most Christians do not understand that the reason their deals/bargains tend to fail is because they do not keep their end of the bargain. They do not follow through with what they say they are going to do, so of course the god does not provide. That’s incredibly disrespectful. 

Sacrifice works on a very deep level – it is a reciprocal exchange. The gods provide me with a great deal, including the opportunity to experience them on a very personal level. In exchange, I provide them with offerings. Some of the things the gods give to me require larger sacrifices than others. That’s okay – I don’t mind giving the gods what they need. What I get from them, largely, is their presence. I love the gods, and I love having them around. 

Because of that, I do what I can to make sure that I take the moments I can find to take a breath and listen when they have something to tell me. I am not perfect at it – none of us are. But I do my best, and that’s all I can ask of myself. That’s all the gods ever ask of me, and it seems silly to require more of myself than the gods themselves ask. That doesn’t mean I don’t try to give more – sometimes I try to give so much that the gods tell me to take a break. I actually once had Loki tell me to stop obsessing over making sure I had given him an offering during the week – that happened when I was sick with a virus that made it hard to get out of the bed. I was determined to give him an offering, and Loki basically told me to stop being ridiculous and go back to bed. 

I have a hard time turning off the working mode that our society has indoctrinated into me – that carries over to my work with the gods to a greater extent than is necessarily healthy. At the end of the day, though, I enjoy having the gods around. Because I am secure in the knowledge the gods are always there, even when I don’t always hear them perfectly, I can stay secure in the relationships I hold with them. I am of the mind that they value their relationship with me the way I value my relationship with them. In that way, I don’t fall into the trap of feeling abandoned. Why would someone who cares for me the way I care for them abandon me? When the gods do seem distant, I remind myself that I am the one creating that distance and to reduce it, I have to tune out of the noise of the world. Once I do that, the distance disappears and the gods are as close as they have always been. 

Roman Polytheism and Spiritual Pollution

Mention “miasma,” “pollution,” or “purity” in regards to Polytheism, and many Pagans will take umbrage with these terms. Impurity is usually equated with sin and evil. Impurity carries a sense of a demonic quality. Therefore purity becomes a part of a cosmic struggle between good and evil. One reason is that Christianity has redefined these Polytheistic terms to match its theology. Since many Pagans are converts from Christianity, they will often think of these concepts in those terms. However, “miasma,” “pollution,” and “purity” have different meanings in Polytheism.

Paganism does have its version of “pollution” and “purity.” Pagans discuss “positive” and “negative” energies. People will cleanse themselves and their spaces routinely to clear out negative energy. For example, crystals are often cleansed before using them. Also, before rituals, many Pagans will smudge themselves to purify themselves and to clean out their ritual spaces.

Miasma and spiritual pollution are different from both negative energy and Christian sin. Negative energy powers destruction, sickness, and other such things. It can be removed by laughter or positive thinking. Sin is removed by baptism and confession. Miasma, which is specific to Greek Polytheism, is a “spiritual pollution that prevails over all, it is not an ‘evil thing.’” Continuing in his essay, Markos Gage says “Miasma is therefore something we incur in life, everyday life.” (Note 1) Public cleansing of communities is a regular part of the Hellenic and Roman calendars.

In Roman Polytheism, castus (the adjective) means being morally pure, pious, or ritually pure. Piety (pietas) is maintaining the right relations between people, their Gods, their families, and their communities. Castitas (the noun) is the purity of the ritual and the participants. (Note 2) That means everyone must be physically and mentally cleansed before conducting a ritual. Before a ritual, people perform ablutions by washing their hands and asking that the water purify them.

An error conducted in a ritual is a spiritual pollutant. It negates the ritual and risks the anger of the Gods. It is not that a God will smite someone, but is to maintain the Pax Deorum, the Peace of the Gods. Religious negligence leads to divine disharmony and the turning away of the Gods. This leads to the loss of protection for the family, community, and the individual.

The closest thing that Roman Polytheism has to Christian sin is nefas. This can be defined as anything which is contrary to divine law. Nefas is a failure to fulfill a religious duty. Nefas is a willful act of religious violation. In that case, the person is separated from the community.

Impurity can be thought of in terms to avoid contamination. This can include gossip, body fluids and disease. The most common is disease and corpse contamination. However, impurity is a state that can be remedied. A wide variety of purifications rituals were available, the simplest was bathing with water.

Polytheists regard the world to be neutral, which differs from Christian theology. St. Augustine stated that the world is both corrupt and corrupting. Therefore, humanity lives in a Fallen World. To Polytheists, the world is both clean and dirty. Kenaz Filan explains, “The world is a clean flowing stream, and miasma the sewage dumped into the water. We clean the stream by filtering that sewage or by redirecting it…to where it can be properly contained.” (Note 3)

Why focus on purity and pollution? When a person prays, divine, or perform any other sacred act, they are engaging with the Holy Powers. There is a doctrine in U.S. law called, “Clean Hands” (also called “Dirty Hands”). (Note 4) The plaintiff cannot have the judge participate in an illegal act. One example is a drug dealer cannot sue to have his stolen drugs be returned. Another is suing the hit man you hired to kill someone for failure to do their job. As Judge Judy says on her TV show, “the courts will not help anyone with dirty hands.” I believe that in our relations with the Gods, we can think of purity and pollution in those terms. By being “pure,” we continue to have the protection of the Gods.

Notes:
Note 1. Markos Gage, “Answers About Miasma,” from “With Clean Minds and Clean Hands,” Galina Krasskova, ed. P. 51. Markos Gage is a devotee of Dionysius and an artist.

Note 2. The Romans have a Goddess – Lua – who protects all things purified by rituals and for rituals.

Note 3. Kenez Filan, “Miasma” from “With Clean Minds and Clean Hands,” Galina Krasskova, ed. P. 69. Filan is the author of several books including “Drawing Down the Spirits (with Raven Kaldera)”. He is an initiated Houngan Si Pwen.

Note 4. Clean hands: “Under the clean hands doctrine, a person who has acted wrongly, either morally or legally – that is, who has ‘unclean hands’ – will not be helped by a court when complaining about the actions of someone else.” From The ‘Lectric Law Library, http://www.lectlaw.com/def/c202.htm

Works Used:
Thomas Kazen, “Purification” from “Ritual in the Ancient Mediterranean World.
Galina Krasskova, “With Clean Minds and Clean Hands”
Martin Lang, “On Purity — Private and Public (in Polytheism).” Academic paper.
L. Vitellius Triarius, “Religio Romana Handbook.”

Morana and the Underworld

Artist: Unknown

As the winter months stretch on, many of us will continue to stare longingly at bare tree branches in the hopes that we will see green shoots sprouting. We look for this as a sign that the chill in the air is going to subside and that new life is coming. However, we should still take this time to appreciate the dead—not push it away. And, with that in mind, I wish to take you on a short journey to Nav, the Slavic world of the dead, and introduce you to Morana, goddess of winter and death.

 Morana is often seen carrying a scythe or sickle that she uses to cut the threads of life. In physical appearance, Morana, upon first glance, is terrifying; her skin is pale, she has long dark, stringy hair, her nails are long and sharp, and, sometimes, she’s even said to have fangs. However, this is not her only form, as Morana also is described as a young maiden. Yet, when she first appears to you, most often times you’ll get the ugly, old crone; it isn’t until you show an appreciation for her and a lack of fear for all she stands for that you will see the beautiful, maiden side to her.

Winter is considered to be the time of Morana. She brings the snow, hail, and cold winds with her. The thought of winter coming from Morana is mostly attributed to her relationship with Dazbog, the sun god. As it’s told, Morana seduces Dazbog, and pulls him down into her embrace. With Dazbog distracted, daylight lessens, and we are thrown into the darker, colder winter months. Unfortunately, in later parts to the myth, it is said that when Dazbog moved on from Morana, she poisoned him. As punishment for this, she was then banished to Nav.

Nav isn’t a dark or evil place, though. While it does contain its demons and dark parts, there is much good surrounding it as well. Remember Lada? The goddess of love (who also happens to be Morana’s mother) whom I’ve talked about in a prior post? She also resides in the underworld. And, while this might be shocking to hear, it’s important to know this for one key reason—new life comes from within; be it flowers coming up from the cold earth connected to the below underworld, or a new view on yourself through introspection. So, with that in the forefront of your mind, hopefully it eases some of the internalized fears you might have about the underworld. However, if you still wish for spring to just get here already, there is one more concept imbedded within these beliefs that I know you will appreciate—reincarnation. Reincarnation is something widely believed in in Slavic tradition. It’s thought that your soul could indeed return as anything from a descendant to even an animal. However, it’s still important to remember that, without death, there will be no rebirth.

A Very Belated Yule

I beg your forgiveness for the lateness of this post — usually I try to get my holiday posts up a couple of days before said holiday, not several weeks after! I’m sure many of you can understand the stress that comes with this holiday season, including occasional flare ups in mental health concerns — which is approximately why I’m running so late on this one.

So since Yule has come and gone, instead of telling you about you can have a more Rokkatru flavored Yule, I’ll tell you what I did this year and what I might change up for next year.
The weekend before Christmas I traveled to visit my family — who does not celebrate Yule and who have no established Yule traditions. While my mother and sister contributed to making dinner, I got busy baking a Yule log cake and cooking up some mulled wine — called glogg in Sweden. Tasty treats seemed the perfect way to integrate some Yule flavor into a family gathering, and as I served out the cake and wine I informed my family what this Yule thing is all about:
Yule is one of many ancient traditions revolving around the winter solstice, or the longest night of the year. Between the summer solstice and the winter solstice, the days have been growing shorter and the night longer. But now, with Yule, we celebrate the return of light and warmth — from here, the days will grow longer toward the summer solstice, when the process repeats.
Traditionally there is fire involved these celebrations, to represent the return of the sun. Unfortunately weather interfered with the bonfire plans I had, so we stuck with candles instead.

Screenshot_20200110-152832.png

My Yule log from 2018 — featuring a tomten and a yule goat

When I returned home, where my fiancee met me determined to help me round out a patchwork Yule celebration of sorts (which is fair, evidence suggests the old Norse celebrations of Yule were between a week and two weeks of feasting and drinking) we got to work on a Yule log. Sharing the left overs of the cake and cooking up some more mulled wine, we carved an actual log, cut from the remnants a Maypole, to fit three candles, which we burned while we exchanged gifts. When we tried to actually build a fire in the firepit outside to burn the log it was an utter failure but hey, an attempt was made.
The whole celebration ended up being a rather ramshackle one, and ideally being able to have my fiancee join for a family Yule would help remedy this. Yule has a great potential for being a wonderful, cozy holiday shared with loved ones around a fire, delicious treats and healthful meals. But for a holiday celebrating the returning of the light, what can a Rokkatru practitioner do to align the celebration more closely to their path which celebrates the dark?
There are several deities that we could honor during this season — Hela, whose season of darkness and death is coming to an end with Yule, or perhaps any number of jotnar who are closely associated with the earth. This could be a time to do a blot of awakening for Gerdr, who is often interpreted to represent the fertile but cold soil being roused into wakefulness by Freyr, the fertile light and warmth of the sun (a myth which can be re-enacted in spring blots). Yule may be a time to call to Gerdr, give her a blot with sweet offerings in the earliest attempts to cajole the spring out of the freeze.
One could also make the argument that now is a time to hold such a blot to Jord — the earth which has gone into slumber through the cold and the dark, and which will soon be awakening again. Jormungandr, who has been associated with the liminal, the in-between, might be hailed at this time as the season on the thinned veil comes to a close (some traditions see the dark season as a season in which the veil is thinned, only beginning with Samhain but sometimes drawing on for a month or two). Skoll and Hati could again be hailed, for their ongoing chase through the heavens which drives the sun and the moon through their cycles.
If one wanted to do Yule classically, with multiple days of feasting, one could set aside nine days for Yule — each day holding a blot to honor one or more of the Rokkr and jotnar, the deities and sacred spirits of the dark, the night, and the wild. At the marking of the descent of darkness back into light, it seems a perfect time to honor those deities of the dark that we hold dear — to honor them even as we move forward out of the season of the dark and the cold, and move back into the realm of light and warmth.
This, I believe, is what I will seek to do for next year’s Yule.
How did you pass this Yule? Have you introduced any particular traditions to flavor this solar holiday for a darker path? I would love to hear if you wouldn’t mind sharing!

Shadow Patrons (Gods)

In Polytheism, people have a variety of relationships with various Gods. Some have a Patron (Matron), who forms a favorable relationship with them. (Not every Polytheist has a Patron, since each God chooses their level of connection with humans.) A “Shadow Patron” (Note 1) is a God who chooses to have an adversarial relationship with a human.

Why would a God have an antagonistic affiliation with someone? It depends on the Polytheism and the particular Gods. Some people believe that the Shadow Patron works with a person to burn off the bad luck in the Ancestral line. Some Gods want to test the fitness of the person, before They ask any service of that human. For some Gods, that is their nature, such as Nergal of Babylon, who states, “I just break things.”

In my perspective, a Shadow Patron forces you to handle the psychic energy of the hurt or grief. You are forced to cope with your wounds in order to do what They require of you. Since this energy is a form of impurity, it needs to be cleansed. You need to be spiritually ready to do the various sacred acts asked of you by the Gods.

Apollo is my “Shadow Patron.” For me, it is because I do two things that this God is particular about – divination and prayers. In Roman Polytheism, both sacred activities are associated with Apollo, He is particular about doing these religious rituals correctly. Moreover, He wants ensure that I am worthy to do each. Through testing my mettle, Apollo guarantees both to his satisfaction.

Since this God is well-known to force Himself on unwilling females, I actively disliked Him. When I was a teenager, I was the victim of unwanted male attention. Hence, I avoided Apollo like the plague (which is ironic since in Roman Polytheism, He adverts the plague). When I began writing rituals and prayers, Apollo came and refused to leave. Then I started practicing Roman-style divination. At that point, Apollo instructed me on how He wanted these acts conducted. A hard taskmaster, He drove me to hone my craft for both.

As I worked through this difficult relationship, I came to realize that Apollo is my Shadow Patron. Because He wants what I do and say to be the Truth. Apollo takes me places that I refuse to go. He does not allow me to “spiritually bypass.” (Note 2). That means I have to do deep sacrifices for Him, which usually involve things that my injured brain balks at. (Note 3)

It seems ironic that the God of the Sun and of Logic would have me focus on the unconscious realm. I can explain this. Since rituals between the Gods and the community entail a liminal space, preparation needs to be made. In a ritual, the full emotional spectrum of the community is melded into one. That includes the unconscious shadows of each person. All of this needs to be harmonized before the Gods can be contacted.

Furthermore, Apollo rules the Day, which is consciousness. By doing so, He has defined the Night, which is unconsciousness. Standing in the blinding Light, one can see the deepest Night. Why is this important? In divination and in prayer, the force of the hurt, the grief, and resentment is released. This turns Day into Night. The Dark and the Light must be in balance for the Dark holds the Light as the Light holds the Dark. This seeming binary of Dark/Light is not Bad/Good, but a nonduality (Note 4) with shades of Grey between the Two.

In the “Inheritors: Moving Forward from Generational Trauma,” Gita Baack writes that “resilience is the process of creating meaning out of the contradictions of life’s darkness and light. It builds on the strength of relationships and community.” (Note 5) That is for me, a major reason for Apollo being my Shadow Patron.

Divination and prayers are sacred acts. To perform each, the human communicates directly with the Holy Powers. The Pax Deorum (The Peace of the Gods) has to be maintained between the people and the Gods. This is one reason for Shadow Patrons.

Notes:
Note 1. Shadows are considered to be the archetypes of the darker aspects of life such as the Underworld. A Shadow God could be a God who is of the Underworld or of War.
Note 2. “Spiritual bypassing is a mistaken belief that if we pray enough…eat right, and only think positive thoughts, our life will ascend finally reaching enlightenment.” Linda Star Wolf, “Soul Whispering,” Page 154.
Note 3. I have a traumatic brain injury.
Note 4. “Nonduality” means “non-separation and fundamental wholeness.” It comes from Eastern Religious thought.
Note 5. Gita Baack, “Inheritors: Moving Forward from Generational Trauma,” P 149.

Works Used:
Gita Baack, “Inheritors: Moving Forward from Generational Trauma.”
Raven Kaldera, “Dealing with Deities.”
Galina Krasskova, “With Clean Minds and Clean Hands.”
Linda Star Wolf, “Soul Whispering.”

Ascendant II: Theology for Modern Polytheists

The newest title from Bibliotheca Alexandrina is Ascendant II, edited by Michael Hardy. It contains essays from several different authors, including John Beckett, Wayne Keysor, John Michael Greer, Brandon Hensley, and myself.

My article “Applying Cross-Cultural Methods of Myth Interpretation to the Myth of Baldr’s Death” is featured about halfway through the book. For anyone curious about why Loki’s involvement in Baldr’s death is actually essential to the maintenance of the cosmological order, I highly suggest reading that essay.

I actually highly suggest buying a copy of Ascendant II (and its precursor, Ascendant I) because it features polytheists discussing theology in the modern world. Theology is not often something discussed in Pagan and Polytheist circles, despite all the work we do with and for the gods.

You can learn more about the contents of Ascendant II here and you can purchase your own copy of Amazon for $11 here.