Upcoming changes to this blog: what are your thoughts, fellow polytheists?

This blog has been dormant for a few months – with everything going on, I’ve been unable to properly attend to the topics I’ve wanted to talk about to my satisfaction. Part of this has been due to my exhaustion of behavior on the interwebs where attempts to talk about polytheist practice/belief/devotion/etc have become “flame wars” where the center of conversation quickly becomes fighting between dissenting parties.

Frankly, I’m sick of it. I want to see discussion again. I want to see discourse. I want to see the Faces of the Powers in everyone’s rich and unique practice, flavors of thought, in everyone’s way of being. I want there to be a polytheist space again where things can flower. I want to lessen reactive discussion, where a wonderful topic is drowned by a war in the comments section. I want for intra-community dialogue, sharing, constructive criticism to happen. I want to see growth of our vibrant, diverse, powerful community together – that our differences are our strengths, not our weaknesses or our points of contention.

We can be better. Our Powers deserve better.

So this is something I want to do, and I would love your thoughts on this.

I want to continue posting my theological thoughts on here (as well as reposting other wonderful articles). However, the change to this blog involves something MUCH more public. I want to open each and every single article with the intent to actually foster discussion – to actively seek out replies and work on developing healthy discussion of contemporary polytheisms.

I want this place to be a place of safe polytheist space – by, for, with polytheists. I want this place to be where thoughts can be exchanged, discourse can happen, where people get the food to write on THEIR blogs to further discussion (and/or to understand their own practice and Powers better!).

I want there to be polytheist conversations, to share and to explore how we engage with our Powers and to talk philosophy and theology. We are as different as our Gods – that should be celebrated and explored on a space that can be held.

I think it’s sorely needed – what do you think?

And if you think it is needed: What can we be doing now with and for our Powers? What should we be talking about? What topics, what practices? What should we do, short of deepening our practices and continuing to do our Work? How can we all move forward together in our differences to where it matters: the Powers? How can we all learn more about each other and support each other? And what else would you like to ask or bring to my attention, in order to make this happen?


Words, Definition, and Intra-Community Dialogue

I recently read “From A Flatland Metaphysics to the Ecology of Gods” by John Halstead as well as his “The Dictionary Is Not a Holy Book” post. I have a bit of commentary on both pieces and, as usual, I will say that this is with intent to constructively critique an argument. My interest in this post is to write about intra-religious dialogue and the crucial importance of words for a successful, meaningful dialogue.

In order to coexist successfully, we need to be able to speak to each other clearly and precisely. In order to do that, we need learn how to speak to each other. Part of speaking with each other is defining terms for argument – and for the sake of the argument, ideally, words should be as clearly defined as possible order to reach understanding and meaningful conversation during discourse.

Example 1

A: If we’re going to talk about the gods, let’s look at a basic definition of the word deity. Let us begin by understanding that deity means: “A divine status, quality, or nature” (source).

In his “Dictionary” post, Halstead writes about how some people want to own words, and calls for people to understand the flexibility of language. I entirely agree that the dictionary does not hold all definitions, because every day we use words for different things. I entirely agree that language and usage changes. I agree that one word may never mean the same thing to two people; that is the beauty of language.

But I fail to understand how Halstead can call for flexibility with language when his hackles raise when someone uses the dictionary, the use of which is interpreted as “claiming ownership of language.” I fail to understand how Halstead can call for intra-community dialogue of peace and acceptance of differences and, yet, be completely unable to work in defining terms for a conversation.

Example 2

A: If we’re going to talk about the gods, let’s look at a basic definition of the word deity. Let us begin by understanding that deity means: “A divine status, quality, or nature” (source).

B: Hold on, hold on! That’s not what deity means!

A: I am referring to this definition as the starting point for our conversation, not the ending point. Nor are we setting definitions to make our private, individual practice clear to ourselves. I did not define this term in order to reconcile our beliefs into this definition. The conversation on what deity is/isn’t begins FROM this definition, not INTO this definition.

Language IS flexible enough to accommodate all of our uses – absolutely! But when it comes to mutual commentary, we need a space to work in before we can start building in that space. And we are certainly not going to understand each other if there is no “solid” word for a conversation. (Note that I used the word conversation).

Now, agreeing on the meaning of the word during a conversation does not mean that it suddenly becomes law. Defining “deity” in a conversation does not make my opinion an imposition, nor does it become the absolute definition. Clarifying word use provides a stable point in the earth where we can THEN begin discussion.In his Summa Theologica, Thomas Aquinas uses a vastly different vocabulary in his work – the key point being that he sets the definition to the argument and THEN uses the word in order to make his argument clear and presentable for thought/commentary/rebuttal.

We need a starting point. We need analogy. We need a square one, and defining terms for an argument is just that. A forest can’t grow if the soil isn’t fertile and solid. A building cannot be built if the ground keeps shaking and if the foundation continues to tear apart.

If you want me to understand you, you need to let me know how words are used precisely because language is flexible.

Intra-community conversation requires a grammar and a diction. We need to understand that using the dictionary can be a starting point for meaningful conversation – not an attack on personal beliefs or the establishment of law. By creating a firm grounds for discussion, we can actually have fruitful exchange, instead of wasting time. With polytheism it will be even trickier as the framework for polytheism is distinctly different from monotheism. We need to be matured and measured about how we handle this.

Example 3

A: If we’re going to talk about the gods, let’s look at a basic definition of the word deity. Let us begin by understanding that deity means: “A divine status, quality, or nature” (source).

B: Hold on, hold on! That’s not what deity means!

A: I am referring to this definition as the starting point for our conversation, not the ending point. I did not define this term in order to reconcile our beliefs into this definition. The conversation on what deity is/isn’t begins FROM this definition, not INTO this definition.

B: Okay. From the words used in this definition, allow me to raise a question on ontology, which is the reason I have a problem with the stated definition. The definition says “divine status, quality, or nature.” Is deity a position held or a nature? Were I to answer that question, I see that godhood is a nature, not a position held. I have questions about, if the gods have a position, then who was the one who assigned that position (if at all) and what criteria is needed to hold that position.

A: I see what you are saying, and I see it that deity is a nature as well. However, from my perspective, the deity is natured due to its position as a deity. We as human beings provided deity with the position with myth and ritual. Consequently, in providing the position of deity to the god, deity became a nature. However, once a deity loses a position as deity, then they cease to be natured as a deity.

[meaningful, fulfilling intra-community discussion continues]

To close in answering Halstead’s question – I agree entirely with getting along. I agree entirely that we have varied opinions and philosophies, and that one does not cancel the other. (I remember writing a lot about this somewhere). I agree entirely that there is no, nor should there ever be, a monotheist absolutism in polytheism.

But we can’t have meaningful conversation until we can be mature enough to understand that clarifying the use of words for a conversation is not ownership of language. Until we can understand that setting a basic definition allows for everyone to give input on it and how it affects each belief. Until we can understand that defining terms to create a conversation is not boxing in, not discrimination, and certainly not a call for an absolute-definition language.

The dictionary is not the be-all end-all, but it is a crucial starting point for meaningful discussion – which, I believe, would be a balm for wounds from a ridiculous war that makes no sense. And one can write about ecology of the gods and mutual acceptance as much as one likes but, well… there needs to be a starting point. And the starting point begins with language.

On (Dis)honest Gods: A Theology of Liars, Trickers, and Assholes, An Introduction

Just recently, one of my clients asked me to perform a reading for her to garner some information that was needed. It was an immensely serious, angering matter – and one of her questions to me was, “Why are the gods such assholes?”

I think one of the duties of any theologian is to carefully examine these statements, for therein lies a bountiful amount of theological material that helps us understand the gods, the community, each other, and ourselves. And I think that the more painful, the more angry, the more outrageous, the more difficult and hard-to-swallow that the statement is, the more important it is to make theological inquiry.

Anger is a part of my devotional life, not only as a powerful energy that I work with but also a strong presence in deities and entities I work with, such as the Unseelie Fae. I work with cruel rage and brutal harshess. I work with very, very, very dark gods (I think, to be honest, the only un-dark deity I work with is Frigg!) There have been many times throughout my practice where I have lashed out at Cernunnos, where I have rebuked Him, and where I have suffered immensely under decisions that He has made for our devotional relationship and for my own life.

I tease sometimes that many of His scars are claw-marks from my own fingernails, but in reality, that is as far away from a joke as it can get. Cernunnos has been silent when I have cried to Him for a single syllable; He has wrecked me in uncountable and unspeakably painful ways; and He has torn me away from people and things I loved. He has put me in extremely difficult situations and has given me heavy, heavy loads to carry over long distances, alone. This god, single-handledly, has broken me and my life.

And I see it present with those in our community sharing their experiences. I have seen bones that have been broken, lives that have been tattered, and starving, thirsty months of torture and struggle just to get an inch of headway done in anything. I see difficult memories and sudden, twisting changes in the path that knock the wind and marrow out of somebody. I have seen and heard of instances of abuse by gods unto devotees and extremely traumatic experiences with gods and spirits that have left many shaking at even the mere mention of Their names. I see that the gods and spirits have lied to people many times; that They have tricked, manipulated, harmed; and that from the lips of every person I have heard, at least once, “Why are You doing this to me?” whether it is shouted to the heavens, muttered under breath, or sliced in the heart.

It’s understandable to have a difficult time with understanding the amoral, seemingly wayward and malicious aspects of several entities. The majority of us are used to absolutely two absolutes: either something is good or bad. Period. There’s the hero and the enemy, the angel and the devil. There is absolutely no crossover. Crossover doesn’t exactly work in a monotheist context (trust me, as a theologian in the academy, if there’s one thing that Christian theology really has serious discussion with, it’s the presence of evil in a good world created by a good and impassible God).

During my research of the Unseelie, the very little info I found was very basic in documenting the Seelie as ‘good’ and the Unseelie as ‘evil.’ Working with the Unseelie – hell, being Unseelie myself – has allowed me to understand that this is both deeply wrong and seriously limiting. I’ve written a post about re-interpreting that here.

There are several questions arising about the nature of the gods – who and what are the gods? What are the gods like? Is there a difference between what we believe the gods to be and what the gods actually are?

Then there are questions about morality and ethics. Are the gods good? Are they cruel? Are they evil? Are they malicious? What are the differences between cruelty, evil, and malice?Does it matter if the gods are good, or good to us? What does the presence of cruelty and dishonesty say about a god’s constitution? Why give a god worship and attention – does worhsip lie inherently in the god’s goodness (and/or goodness to us)? How does that understanding of goodness affect the relationship itself as well as the perception of that relationship?

What is our place in a relationship with the gods? Do we hold power in the relationship? If so, to what extent? Are we equal, greater, lesser? What does the presence and expression of anger say about the relationship and the actions that happen within those relationships? What does the presence of terrible times in one’s life, especially when directly backed by a god, say about the gods, the relationship, and you as a devotee?

What is the distinction between saying “The gods can be assholes” and saying “The gods are assholes” if at all?

We have questions, too, of cultural morality and tradition. Are the gods good to us, or are They good to us only on our terms of what goodness is? How much of a monotheist framework still exists in contemporary paganism/polytheism, and how is this affecting how we view, understand, and react to the gods? What does it mean to approach the gods from a polytheistic framework, a polytheistic perspective, a polytheist theology?

Gods that are liars, tricksters, and assholes… what does that mean, and what does this reveal about Their nature and being? On polytheism as a breathing religion? As we ourselves being beings who choose to be in relationship with gods and spirits? About ourselves, our human nature, and the path forward?

In the coming weeks I will write several parts to this dealing with the ontology of the gods in a polytheist perspective, musings on what and why the gods deal with ‘negative’ amoral behavior, and what we as polytheists can begin to understand about this behavior as we move forward towards, and with, our gods and spirits.


On making space for the gods: a theology

When I discovered there was such a thing as devotional polytheism, one thing stuck out at me like a sore thumb: hospitality.

Perhaps it stuck out at me because, being a first-generation Cuban-American, I was raised in a household where hospitality was simply blood in one’s veins. It is part of our cultural language to be fluent in a certain protocol of accepting visitors, from close friends to strangers coming in from the streets. In the mindset of the culture I was raised in, and in the foundation of my family, homes would be not only homes for us, but homes for others. One did not keep a house tidy just for one’s personal or family order – it was imperative to keep the house tidy and clean in preparation – nay, anticipation – to accept visitors at all times (as usually people knocked instead of notifying ahead of time and asking for permission, which was a protocol I learned was present in American culture).

Growing up, I was taught how to make a hospitable home. From the moment there was a knock on the door, we were host to a great guest – it did not matter whether the guest was the ragged flower-seller down the street, the plumber that came to fix the pipes, or my grandmother’s oldest and sassiest friend. Hospitable activities included asking after one’s family, health, work, and self. There was a special space for visitors to sit, and of course the honored guest would receive offers of un cafecito, water, or juice to accompany selections of fresh fruit, cheese and guava, a pastel, and just-finished desserts and breads. If the guest had come into my grandmother’s home at the right time, of course, they would be privy to the first plate of delicious food right from the stove in the best plate they could offer.

This familial yet respectful atmosphere that we learn how to make – and that is also deeply engrained in Hispanic culture as I understand it – was exactly the foundation that allowed me to understand the presence and work of hospitality: making space for someone else. It is something so simple and so fundamental to any kind of worship; and yet, there are so many hidden complexities that it’s taken me much more than a page or two to flesh out what ‘making space’ means to me.

An invitation of bringing the gods into one’s life and home requires a protocol of proper, respectful treatment – and perhaps the most critical aspect of hospitality lies in the idea of making space for the honored visitor in one’s home, be they gods or mortals. It is an action of diplomacy in one’s personal kingdom while, simultaneously, taking on the roles of host, making sure that all proper accommodations are made in order to make one’s home a space of welcome. It is a selfless act, switching attention to someone else – making them feel warm, welcomed, and fully present in one’s home and life.

That is why making space is so difficult. That’s why making space is no easy task, nor is it stable. Making space in one’s busy life is imperative – that is why there are holy days, feast days, and days of worship in religions. And it is something that is challenging to maintain, especially with juggling work, life’s sudden demands and life’s constant ones, personal life, and much more.

I see it play out right before my eyes. As my Family grows, the amount of space in my room lessons. My schedule becomes more constricted, as my slivers of free-time fill up with reminders of prayer, devotional work, and remembering to keep the room clean. “Where am I going to put all of these shrines?” is the one worry in my mind next to “How am I going to find the time to work with ALL of them?”  Next to working three jobs and being a full-time grad student, fulfilling my duties to my Spouse and the entities in my care, dealing with everything else that comes into my life… The panic sets in.

I have little space as is – and now I am being asked to give it to the gods?

There is space, I heard Someone say to me. (Most likely Frigg, and I say this happily). Space a-plenty, Ossia, but it is a matter of making it.

So what does it mean, to make space for the gods?

When one begins a devotional practice of any kind, making space is perhaps one of the most difficult challenges to work through. It’s not like a magic ‘on’ switch is flipped where, suddenly, one arranges their life at a cellular level. Room for devotions or offerings doesn’t automatically becomes part of a person’s timeline and way of being. Making room for the gods is a constant cultivation based on constant change, both in your life and Theirs.

And that’s exactly it! Making space is making space – a verb, an ongoing action sustained by an ongoing effort. Every day is a new day – every offering is a new offering – every conversation is a new conversation.

Making space for the gods is an ongoing action that requires energy. Every action made to and for Them requires a mindfulness, a conscientiousness. Every person is different to every Being, and every Being is different to every human, but at the core of a practice is the verb: practice. That is why, sometimes, it gets overwhelming. That’s why, sometimes, I am simply too tired. I am simply overspent. I simply don’t have the time.

Now, this is certainly not to say that the exhaustions and problems of a daily life are not relevant or “excuses.” I vehemently go against this kind of thinking. With all of the demands of our life, sometimes it is a wonder how we can still be awake (albeit barely!)  at the end of the day. Sometimes we, with everything that we have to do, simply forget to make room for Them. It happens, and I admit (although sourly) that this has happened to me. It has certainly happened to others. Making space is an issue of practice, daily application, love, and understanding what goes wrong, when it goes wrong, in order to correct the fault. Making space is hard and energy-consuming. It is challenging in its richness and its demands. It is important – crucial. Anyone who tells you differently should look back on their own practice a bit.

Why? One of the biggest reasons why making space is so difficult is because it seems like a physical action. It is much, much more than that. It is also a matter of making space for the gods in our lives, mindfully.

It is making space for our gods by giving offerings when we have given our word to do so. Invitation into our lives, in a way, requires a continuation of that relationship, on keeping our word to ourselves and to Them; one does not invite a Being into a house and home and then behave as if the Being had not set roots there, or was not sitting at the table waiting to be hosted.

Making space is opening one-self, daily, to the opportunity for the influence of the gods in your life. When one is hospitable, it does not mean to me simply a matter of dusting off the coffee table in one’s physical home and replacing the offering cup. It is not about thinking that “I am here and the gods are there.” The gods do not remain stuck on the altar like statues waiting for you to return for another filling; They roam in all places. Making space as an action means opening your inner home, too: your self, your thoughts, your actions. It is being open, showing vulnerability, to the gods roaming within and outside of you.

Making space is being open to the footsteps and handiwork of the gods, for better and for worse. It is being open to Their presence – and not just Their static presence, but Their active presence as well. It is open to Their answers, Their questions, Their decisions, Their words, Their advice, and Their fury.

Making space is allowing the gods to be Themselves – to rid yourself of suppositions of what gods should be and instead understand what They are. Consequently, making space is allowing your vision to be Theirs. It is seeing the world, understanding the world, in a completely different way. It is learning the language of the gods and watching it being spoken in the world around you. It is coming back to your room at the end of a very long day and feeling Them breathe in your home, or recognizing Their touch when something interesting comes along.

Making space is, for some, becoming a conduit to the gods – it is a role, a career, a way of life. For me, every action I make is an offering, and I always do as They ask me to do. Making space is the understanding that I am in relationship with deity, and in doing so I give myself in service to Them. Many times, making space is being space, one’s personal efforts to mindfully represent their gods and be actively engaged in service. (In many ways, making space can be a sort of horsing).

In this rich theology of making space physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally… when one works with the gods, it is not just one sector that is affected. To me, being a polytheist isn’t an issue of figuring out where to put my gods in my house; it’s an issue of where to put myself with the gods in my whole life. It is aligning myself to Their will, forging my path with Them. It is being receptive to Them, understanding Them, and most of all loving Them. It is figuring out how They speak, being attentive when it is time to listen, and being strong when it is time to act.

When one loves their gods, one makes space – and that is just what we (and They) need. When one makes space, all things will come… and all things are made right.

A Question to Ponder

A wonder ethical question to consider! I myself am thinking about this one. It’s important to think about these things… philosophy and theology are not just academic pursuits or abstract hypotheticals. They’re the flesh of all belief!

Gangleri's Grove

So here is my ethical question for the day, a variation on one that I often have my students ponder and gnaw upon.

You have a deeply held ethical, emotional, political, etc.etc. (pick your poison) position/belief. It’s a core focus for your engagement with others, something that defines you and that you deeply cherish.

You have a powerful theophany with a Deity you adore more than all Others. That Deity directs you, in no uncertain terms, to take a position exactly opposite the one you hold, to give up your dearly held belief, to turn your world on its head, or, perhaps, to move to exactly the opposite side of the spectrum.

Like a good polytheist, you consult diviners, oracles and it is a true theophany. You pray and meditate desperately. Perhaps this theophany happens more than once. No matter what your diviners do, no negotiation is possible. You are…

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Do The Gods Care?

The fact that the Gods are People is what makes Them dangerous. An idea can inspire you, motivate you, or frighten you, but it cannot speak with a voice that is not your own. It cannot punish you for deliberately, (or even accidentally,) causing offense. Acknowledging the Personhood of the Gods immediately subordinates the realm of intellect and Human illusions of superiority to Their power, and I think this is something that people find intrinsically disturbing. (Understandably so.)

It reminds us that we are a lot more fragile than we’ve allowed ourselves to believe. Our society spares no expense to control our desires and ambitions through advertising and politics, while simultaneously urging us to think that such things are individual in value, and not merely the construct of an enforced perspective. If we consider, (even for just a moment,) that we might not be the singularly most important facet of existence, it erodes the foundation of this illusory expansion, and enhances the way we connect with Human, (and Other-than-Human) forms of life.

As devotion grows, you become more subject to the influence of the Gods, and by extension, Their concerns become your concerns. You are moved into territory that is principally concerned with Their will. Yes, there are times when your objectives will align, (and sometimes this is what draws you together in the first place,) but the ordinary way of doing, of being, burns out like a dead star, and the resulting gravitational pull can be all consuming.

Source: Do The Gods Care?

Why is Devotion Important?

A *wonderful* post about the importance and role of devotion in a polytheist context.

Gangleri's Grove

There’s been some predictable Heathen push back on my latest polytheist.com article: “Towards a Heathen Theology.” It’s been fascinating reading Swain’s article right after posting my own: his piece so neatly demonstrates precisely the type of blind sophistry that I was discussing in my piece that one could almost think we were working together to better make the point about devotion. I could almost thank him for providing such a clear example of everything that is so amiss with Heathenry particularly in the realm of theology (and perhaps reading comprehension).

Firstly, Swain posits that the only reason to be devoted is to gain some boon from the Gods. Right there, he and I are moving from two very different perspectives. Whereas for him, at least according to his writing, the only purpose in prayer or devotion is mercenary, for me it’s part of being a responsible adult. We…

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