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. 

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. 

Hindu Festivals: Janamashtami

Today is Krishna’s Birthday! Yaay! Here are a few things you need to know about this festival and the god whom it is meant for.

Well, first of all, Krishna wasn’t technically a god. Yes I know he is worshipped as one and ISKCON devotees believe him to be the Paramatma, the great creator spirit. But in older traditions, Krishna is only an avatar of Vishnu, who lived here on Earth as a human many thousands of years ago. That is how it’s possible for him to have a birthday. He was born on the eighth day of Bhadrapada month – Hindus use a Lunar calendar when it comes to most celebrations; it’s around August-September in our calendar.

Born as one or not, he certainly is a very popular god with devotees. He is said to be very attractive, and is the god of compassion, tenderness and love. I would personally add ruthless politics and trickery to the list due to the role he played in the Mahabharata but that’s just me. Most people worship him as the innocent looking charmer with the flute and cows.

So. How do you celebrate a god’s birthday?

1. Clean the house. Just like you would when hosting a birthday party for a human.

2. Cook something yummy for Krishna. It must be vegetarian. He is said to love butter so you could leave some for him at his altar/statue. I normally cook chick pea curry with puri (deep fried breads) and some sweet dish – this year I have made date laddoos. I will leave a link at the bottom with the recipe for these.

3. Celebrate him! Chant his mantras, watch movies about him; keep him in your mind. A good movie that came out fairly recently and I really liked is OMG – Oh My God. It is in Hindi but you might find it with subtitles.

4. Go to a mandir or gather with friends and keep a vigil. Krishna was born at midnight, so people keep vigil to wait for his arrival and wish him happy birthday.

5. Many people fast on this day (I don’t but I make sure I only eat vegetarian food). If you decide to fast you can do it sunrise to sunset, or until the next day morning. You can also do a light-fasting, with eating only fruits and water. Hard core believers will not eat anything and won’t even drink water all day until the next sunrise.

6. If you are in India or in an Indian community, there are always dance and drama performances to honour him. ISKCON temples are a good choice to go as obviously Krishna is their main god. And of course there is a special tradition to commemorate his stealing butter from his mother’s kitchen: dahi-handi. A pot full of yoghurt is hung really high up. Then people have to make a human pyramid in order to reach the pot and break it. The group who manages to break it gets the blessings of Krishna – and some presents from the organisers.

Happy birthday Krishna, I’m sure you are having a blast this year too!

Chick peas curry:

https://www.cookwithmanali.com/punjabi-chole-chickpeas-curry/

Puri:

https://www.vegrecipesofindia.com/poori-a-kind-of-fried-indian-bread/

Dates laddoo:

https://hebbarskitchen.com/dates-ladoo-recipe-khajur-laduu-recipe/

How Babylonian and Roman Gods Recruit Followers

The Roman Gods do not actively recruit from the greater population. I was recruited into Polytheism by Odin, the Norse All-Father. After following the Norse Gods for some time, Neptune of the Romans showed Himself to me. Since then, I have encountered people who have become Roman Polytheists after being Norse. They said it was a natural progression from the “chaotic” Gods to the more “orderly” Ones. Different pantheons have different expectations of their followers. Roman Gods prize order and structure, whereas the Norse are comfortable with chaos.

Since there is overlap with Greek Gods in many people’s minds, the Roman Gods would rather leave the followers of the Hellenic Gods alone. I have noticed that conflation occurs for various Gods such as Poseidon and Neptune in discussions about Gods in general. Recognizing the differences between the Two Gods can be difficult.

Moreover many Celtic followers are resistant to Roman Gods because of the Romans’ war with the Druids. There are Celtic-Roman Gods such as Sulis but their worship does not seem to extend to Roman Gods. Then there is the “coolness” factor of the Norse and Celtic pantheons which people find exciting. Perhaps this is because of all that exposure that people have to Greco-Roman myths and none to these other pantheons.

In my observations, Roman Gods refer people who are already practicing Polytheists. From my experience with Roman Polytheism, it requires daily and regular practice. Since These Gods are “Romans,” They do prize organized over ad hoc devotions. Perhaps that is why the Roman Gods are more reluctant to actively recruit, since many Pagans have eclectic practices.

The Babylonian Gods have a problem in attracting many followers. They and the Canaanite Gods are often first encountered in a negative light in the Old Testament of “The Bible.” Therefore, it is hard for the average Pagan to want to know any of these Gods since they associate Middle-Eastern Gods with Christianity. Also, the Old Testament treats these Gods as figments of people’s imaginations. For these reasons, Marduk, Nanna, and the other Gods do not seem as “real” as the Egyptian Gods. Often the Babylonian Gods will fade into the background.

Another problem for the Babylonian Gods is the meme set forth by the late Zecharia Stichin that the Anunnaki are space aliens who created humans to be their slave species. Stichin took various Babylonian myths and re-invented them to fit his theories. These aliens come from the planet Nibiru (“the 12th planet”) which supposedly passes by Earth every 3,500 years. At that time, they come to earth to bedevil humanity. The meme goes downhill from there and into ancient astronaut theories and alien-human hybrids.

The popularity of Inanna (Ishtar), the Goddess of Love and War often impede people from knowing the other Babylonian Gods. (A popular chant includes Her Name with others Goddesses.) The Pagan devotion to Inanna is often divorced from the other Babylonian Gods. Usually, it is centered in Goddess Worship, whose followers see the Goddesses as individuals and not rooted in particular pantheons. Therefore, Inanna becomes attached to Isis and the other Goddesses.

The devotion to Inanna does not usually transfer to the other Babylonian Gods. This is in contrast with Isis and Hecate, who followers will become acquainted with other Gods from their respective pantheons. I think it has to do with the Babylonian Gods Themselves. More formal in their relations with humans, these Gods expect a sense of propriety from their worshippers. Moreover, They want to be their worship to be rooted in their culture, which makes These Gods reluctant to deal with Eclectic Pagans.

My experience with the Babylonian Gods came from studying mythology and comparing various myths to popular culture. At that point, Marduk decided that I understood the “Enuma Elish,” the Babylonian Creation Epic. From intensive studying of that epic, I developed a devotion to this pantheon. The Babylonians, from what I can infer, prefer people who have little or no Christian residue, and are willing to take their myths seriously.

Why I Work With Deity-Class Spirits

Within the American Heathen community, there seems to be a consensus that the gods are the ones that you go to last. First, you are supposed to develop a relationship with your ancestors, then with the wights of the land and the wights of the home, and then, finally – if necessary – with the gods themselves.

I’ve always found this a bit problematic, as I don’t easily connect with spirits that aren’t deity-class spirits. I actually find it a bit depressing, sometimes, since I have such a difficult time connecting with ancestral spirits and with the wights around me. Then I feel bad about getting depressed. After all, I have what so many other people seem to want – the ability to communicate fairly easily with the gods.

I did not start out with that ability – it is one that I eventually developed as I grew more and more into the Pagan world and mindset and left the monotheistic worldview behind. It took a lot of work for me, as I grew up in the middle of the Bible Belt, and I had a lot of trauma associated with the Christian god – namely, that despite my avid belief and worship of him as a young child wasn’t enough for him to ever step forward into my world and answer the prayers I leveled at him for the situation I had to deal with at home. He was yet another example of someone who abandoned me for no discernible reason.

That took a few years to unravel in my mind, and then I also had to start reading up on polytheism itself to begin to comprehend how the universe could be structured if there wasn’t a single god at its helm. That was rather difficult for me, as my mind kept coming back to this realization that there had to be something at the source, something that generated everything.

Reading mythology really helped me come to understand that the “something” I was perceiving was the Primordial Ocean, that which existed before creation. It is, in different religions, also referred to as the Abyss, the Ginnungap, Chaos, or the Void. No matter which religion’s mythology I examined, I always found the First Principle to be the same – life emerged from the Primordial Ocean, the Universal Matrix that existed before creation itself occurred.

That helped resolve the fact that things always seemed to go back to one, but that one gave rise to a plurality, and the gods were a part of that plurality. That, to me, doesn’t make the gods simply one being, as they were generated by the Primordial Ocean. Like children who are born to parents are not, in fact, just their parents with a different face on, I do not view the gods as being the Primordial Ocean personified in an infinite number of guises.

I see the gods as holding the powers of creation that gave rise to them, but not as that which created them. That means I can view the gods as separate, individual entities who have agency and plans of their own, rather than stepping back into a monotheistic worldview that sees the gods as nothing more than a divided part of the Primordial Ocean.

Once I was able to perceive the gods as separate entities of their own, with their own desires and goals, then I started to hear and see them around me. It was like, just reaching the realization that the gods themselves were individual beings opened the doorway for me to be able to communicate with them. Once that happened, the Norse gods were the first to show up in my life, and they are the ones who have been with me ever since.

I think it’s important, however, to note that as a child, when I still firmly believed in the Christian god, I had no trouble communicating with him. I very much knew he was real, and I talked to him regularly. I have never, in my entire life, doubted that the divine exists, because I’ve always known that it does – it is hard to deny the existence of someone who has communicated with you.

I think that was another reason it took me as long as it did to pull away from the monotheistic worldview – I knew that I was pulling away from someone who had once been a friend, a friend that had hurt me in a way that I could not forgive. I had to figure out a way to be okay with creating that separation, and that took some time. I am not a person who easily gives up on others, even to my own detriment.

Once I managed to severe that relationship and embrace the polytheistic mindset, I found friends in the gods that I knew would never betray or hurt me the way that the Christian god had. They helped heal the hurt that had been done to me by a one-sided spiritual relationship, and they taught me how to trust them. That is why the Norse gods will always be the gods that I turn to first – it was them who showed me that the worth I had was merely in my existence, not in what I could do for them. They showed up, wanting nothing but to make their presence known to me, and I learned to love them in a way I cannot adequately express.

The work I do for them now is work I do for them out of gratitude for all they have already done for me, not out of a sense of obligation or requirement. I continue to serve the gods in the capacities I hold because I know that I could walk away from all the responsibilities I have taken upon myself, and they would let me. They would be sad, but they would understand. They give me the freedom I need to be the person I am, and that, in turn, induces the deepest sense of loyalty in me that I can gift to anyone. I never feel trapped by the gods, as the chains of responsibility I wear are the ones that I wrapped around myself.

It is the gods, however, that engendered my ability to learn to trust in the spirit world after being hurt by it. There is still a level of mistrust that I hold towards the wights of the land and home, as I grew up in a home that was full of spirits. I have started to work on healing those relationships, as I have grown to the realization that those spirits in my childhood home did what they could to help me, but they couldn’t do much due to the limited power they hold. I did not understand how limited that power was as a child, but I do now. I may never be incredibly close to the wights, but I do view them with reverence and treat them with the respect they deserve.

It is much more difficult for me to connect with my ancestral spirits, not because they ever did anything to harm me but because of something my mother did to me as a child. In the familial tradition I practice, it is possible to prevent someone – to lock them – from being able to access certain parts of the spirit world. This is generally only done when someone is being threatened by spirits and is removed when they have learned enough to defend themselves, but it is weird that my mother prevented me from accessing my ancestral spirits. I didn’t learn about this until a couple of years ago, and it took the intervention of a god before that particular lock on my spiritual abilities was broken.

There is a lot there for me to process, and it will take time for me to approach the ancestors I wish to work with. I have been hurt by many, many people close to me, and generally, the people who have hurt me have been family members. That makes it hard for me to want to open myself up to the potential of pain that some of my ancestors might cause, as I still struggle to trust other people – alive or not.

I work well with the gods because I have learned to trust them, and I understand that the foreignness they hold to humanity causes any misunderstandings I have. I do not try to hold them to human standards, and it is probably because of their non-human qualities that I find it easier to trust in them. I trust that I will not ever fully understand the actions they take, as they cannot be simply explained by human morals or concepts. I work best with the gods because they are the spirits that I find myself most capable of trusting.

I also understand, now that I’m older, that the gods have preferences for the humans they interact with. The gods choose their followers as much as we choose the gods. Sometimes, we are not compatible with the gods we choose, and those gods never step forward into our lives. I realized, a few years back, that the Christian God never betrayed me or abandoned me  – he just wasn’t interested in me.

Once I realized and accepted that the gods are choosy, I realized that it is basically impossible for the gods to betray anyone. It is, however, possible for the gods to reject someone. That is why it is so important that when you approach a god you have never honored before, to be okay if that god tells you no. We just aren’t compatible with all the gods, and even some we wish would work with us will turn us down. There are millions upon millions of gods out there, however, so the chances that you can find a god who will step forward into a relationship with you are pretty solid – I’d say almost guaranteed.

©Kyaza 2019

Taking a Responsible Approach to Spirit Work

Recently, someone in the Loki’s Wyrdlings group started to claim that he was Loki, that Loki horsed him all the time – even to the point that the cops in the area knew him as Loki. He posted pictures and did his best to entice people into believing what was obviously false information.

There are people out there who are like this, who claim to speak for the gods and other spirits as if they are able to know the minds of the gods. We cannot do that, and we have a responsibility to ourselves and our communities not to run around claiming that the gods are always horsing and/or communicating through us.

Yes, everyone has religious experiences. Many people do communicate directly with the gods in a way that is almost telepathic. That does not give those people the right to repeat the gods’ words as if they are the gospel truth for that deity. That is an abuse of the privilege of being able to communicate well with the gods. On top of that, the louder a person is about their ability to communicate with spirits, the more aware all spirits become – good and bad – about that person’s ability to communicate. That can potentially open a person up to dangerous situations with malignant spirits.

That is why discernment is such an important part of polytheistic practice. We all deal with very real entities with their own ideas and agencies. Not all spirits are benign. The gods are not safe, and we are not entitled to whatever we want from the spirit world. Bragging about deity communication or deity possession is also a good way to alert the less benign spirits that hey, there’s someone around capable of hearing them and holding their power. It’s a dangerous game to play, and a lot of people would benefit from exercising a little more caution.

I can give you plenty of examples of what not to do, but I think I’ll provide an example of what to do instead – there are plenty of people out there making spiritual mistakes, and far too few approaching spirit work with the right amount of caution.

One of my friends had an intense experience during meditation, and she was almost certain that the spirit that had communicated with her during that meditation was Yemaya. Instead of automatically going “oh yeah, totally her,” she discussed the experience with me and another experienced practitioner who already works with Yemaya to determine whether or not the spirit that had come to her in her meditation was actually Yemaya. It was only after the three of us discussed it and came to the conclusion that yes, it probably was Yemaya, that my friend gave an offering to Yemaya. The way in which the offering was accepted pretty much confirmed that it was Yemaya, so that promises to be the start of a beautiful relationship.

When my friend asked me about her experience during meditation, I had a responsibility to her not to give her information that could potentially put her in harm’s way. Even then, my strongest piece of advice was, “It sounds like it is probably Yemaya.” It wasn’t an “it is 100% without a doubt this one particular spirit” because I cannot give someone that kind of guarantee when it comes to spirit work.

Now, I am aware that not everyone has access to experienced practitioners, especially when it comes to deity and spirit-work. Even among contemporary Pagans, it is rarer to find devoted polytheists than people who solely practice some form of magic.

That lack of experienced practitioners seems to have created this idea that people can do whatever they want with spirit work and everything be fine. I have read horror stories about people going to “shamans” for “soul retrieval” who end up plagued with horrendous nightmares for years afterward. (As an aside, the whole “soul retrieval” technique was contrived by a scam artist looking to capitalize on the guru movement. Anyone trained in “core shamanism” has been duped).

I have also witnessed some terribly horrendous decisions made by those who refuse to listen to more experienced practitioners. I witnessed one woman make a blood contract with an incubus utilizing a ritual she pulled off of the first page of Google search results. I’ve also had people tell me of the spirits that attacked them in their sleep because they failed to ward their space – even after I told them they needed to ward their space.

Spirit work is inherently dangerous. Engaging with spirits means engaging with beings that you can never fully comprehend. Their motives and your motives may align on occasion, but there is never any guarantee that they want what you want. Acting as if the gods and spirits exist only to serve your purpose is a good way to put yourself in harm’s way.

When I warn people about this kind of danger, and I hear “oh, but you cannot judge another person’s religious experience,” it makes me want to scream in frustration. Because it’s not their religious experience I’m judging – it’s their inability to make wise decisions and approach spirit work with the respect it deserves.

As a note, experienced practitioners don’t give idle advice. That’s why I always highly recommend looking for someone with at least a decade of experience for advice. That’s what I mean by experienced. 

© Kyaza 2019