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…

View original post 168 more words

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…

View original post 928 more words

The “Right” Cernunnos: The Gods, “Godcanon,” and The Aim of Devotional Polytheism

See, the really bad thing about finding common threads between experiences lies in the dangerous tendency to begin marking those experiences as more legitimate than others. It affects the people who judge an experience and refuse to consider its acceptance into the complexities and Mysteries of the gods if it does not fit neatly into an established canon; and it directly affects the people who experience the gods in ways that are not fitting neatly into an established canon.

Originally posted on The Sinking Roots.


Arawn was the first person to bring a strange and fascinating fact to my attention, and that was that Cernunnos was the first god that pagans learn about and, simultaneously, the last god that people really come to understand. Now, I am NOT saying that Cernunnos is this “special snowflake” god who occupies a higher throne than other gods – bear with me and please allow me to explain why I say this in the way that I am. (Not to mention that there is nothing cool about this; there are deep-wounding, painful reasons why He is like this, one being that His cultus and worship was literally wiped from humanity and His image was demonized into what Christians may recognize as Satan… but I’m totally not bitter about that, nope, NO ANGER THERE AT ALL).

Most polytheists, pagans, and witches have come to their present spiritual-religious ground via an introduction to Wicca. You can’t get past Scott Cunningham on this one, guys. We all know him. I myself picked up his Wicca and Living Wicca as my very first books to learn about this new path.; in fact, my mentor was (and is) Wiccan, and I began my baby steps into paganism by the “gateway” of Wicca, so to speak.

As I understand it, Wicca honors the presences of the God and Goddess – the God of which is seen as The Great Horned God. This horned god is often seen in the People of Herne, Gwynn ap Nudd, and… you guessed it, Cernunnos. I also understand that there is the idea of a “Role” or Energy and then several expressions of that Role/Energy in different cultures and religions. This “Role” and “Energy” of the God in Wicca is channeled mostly through the image and name of Cernunnos and/or The Horned/Antlered One. (You can see where He was quickly able to be demonized – the “Cern” in Cernunnos comes from the word cornu, meaning “horned” or “antlered”).

When I initially fell head-over-heels for Cernunnos, I began to look up information about Him on Google and in print texts. There was quite a bit of information (but it was repetitive enough to make me realize that we know virtually nothing about Him) that had my head spinning. All the world over, people were very familiar with Him, with His forms, His symbolisms, and his Work. If you’re pagan, you know about Cernunnos in some way. That’s how it works. He is also seamlessly ubiquitous, able to touch people, awaken their senses, and endear Them to Him in a way that makes them understand that He is a wonderful god. He seems to be everywhere!

Yet I know that very few people know Cernunnos. He is very selective with the people He decides to be close to, and He will test you often, frequently, sometimes endlessly before He decides to even consider you close… Quite like an animal needs their trust to be earned before he decides to be your companion – and then, and only then, will he decide in what way and how. Even then He may remain elusive, assessing your every edge and corner as the relationship develops, and it doesn’t help that there is little historical knowledge or background on just who He is or that He doesn’t enjoy the internet presence/conversation that other gods do. (Again, this is not a “speshul snowflake” moment – this is something that I have personally experienced, and that other close devotees of Him had definitely told me about, and definitely deserves its own post I’m not able to really go in-depth on this as of this moment).

For the sake of beginning to explain just what I’m going to talk about, I want to show you the results of a small project that I did. I revisited the “commonalities” of Cernunnos, as I saw shared amongst sources online. This is what I found, and I think that anyone who researches Cernunnos on the internet may find similar qualities both in physical depictions and in personality/symbolic traits. I will coin the term “godcanon” to refer to a collection of qualities commonly ascribed to/agreed upon a particular deity and/or their roles, as seen below:

  • Long, luxurious wild hair
  • Antlers
  • Antlers everywhere
  • Tanned skin
  • Often goat-bodied from the hips down
  • Associated with the colors of green, brown, and sometimes gold
  • Definitely a nature god, if not THE nature god (and god of all wild things)
  • Visitation: you’d probably have to go to the forest; He really doesn’t like being “called out” of His habitat, being a forest god and all, and He’s strongest when you are in natural environments
  • Most active/associated to the seasons of spring and summer
  • Depicted and seen as VERY buff and virile, in the prime(s) of His life
  • Also has a very hefty sexual appetite and is definitely proud of it
  • Symbols: the snake, the bull, the stag, the rammed snake, the torc, nature, trees, and sometimes the things of the Underworld (in His chthonic states),
  • Basically anything and everything forest
  • The primality of the human person and the human person’s connection to the natural world
  • Demeanors: comforting, warm, welcoming // mature, kingly, quiet // unnerving, piercing // full of joy and laughter, mischievous, He who embraces your wild and uninhibited sides and engages them playfully // SEX
  • Connected to the Faery realms
  • Also rather prone to witty humor and sexual jokes

And then I I take one look at Him.

He’s sitting in my chair, calm and silent and at home in my room. He has long black hair trailing down his shoulders just as His robes are trailing to the floor; He’s pale-skinned and sinfully blue-eyed in a piercing, meditative way. He definitely has human legs, black hunter’s boots at all; He’s never come to me as a half-animal, or half-anything. He is dressed for the Hunt or perhaps as a Sovereign of Winter, seeped in ravens and fog and the underlying mad-wild passion that is usually felt in the presence of Odin. He is Winter incarnate to me, not breathing a single leaf of spring or summer or fall. He is serious, a king who prefers not to joke too much but does a great job at balancing severity and mercy with a hand that is surprisingly gentle. There’s no heat of sexual passion or tension that emanates from Him (although I definitely can’t say the same, hurrhurr), and there are no snakes and stags that crawl in my Sight of Him at this moment. There is no torc, no Tuatha, no distinctly Celtic flair or symbology. There’s no green or brown and certainly no gold; He’s a god of blues, blacks, greys, silvers.

This only prompted me to have a “BINGO!” moment, which would be worded like this: many of my experiences with Cernunnos had nothing to do with what is “commonly attributed” to Him. In fact, my experiences with Him do not fit neatly (or at all) in what is this “godcanon” of His. It can even be said that the deity that I work with can be contested, if one wanted to take up that particular challenge – and it is completely valid.  Indeed, my experiences with, and views of, Him are so strikingly different from how other people interact with Him that sometimes I have a very hard time understanding just how I identify this deity as Cernunnos when He clearly doesn’t fit into the “godcanon” that I just researched. They are so different that, for months, I stifled Him because I thought that I “wasn’t seeing Him right.” (I’ll get to this now).

Never have I seen a torc in my life, much less make that association with him. Snakes have only come up when Lilith has poked in to say hello, while He has just recently designated ravens as a sort of symbol for me. I haven’t really had a sexual experience with Him (not to mention that He’s REALLY NOT THE COMFORTING TYPE with me, even though He definitely loves to reach out to others in their anger and their sorrow with such comfort).

So when I did this project and pieced together a Person based on individual qualities, I could sort of see Him.

I know that it’s Him. I know it. Even when I read the “canon” descriptions of Cernunnos online, and it somehow seems like They’re TOTALLY different people, I recognize His soul, His being, in both descriptions. It’s sort of like personally knowing someone named Jay, and then seeing them online dressed in a completely different way, and I’m still able to recognize that, yes, that is Jay.

But it also is very strange, because I may be very used to one side of Jay, and when I see another side of Jay that I’m not familiar with, it almost seems as if Jay is a totally different person that I can’t connect with.

Granted, I do understand that this is information I’m compiling that is mostly visual. Of course, visual attributes aren’t the 100% way to know who someone is; it shouldn’t ever be something to fall back on as a pass-or-fail standard. Whether Cernunnos wears a tuxedo one day or a loincloth the next won’t affect Him as a Person; He’ll still be the same Person to me even if He looks a little different.

What I’m trying to explain is that there’s a lot of problems that come up when you have something like a “godcanon.” Knowing how some people can get when attempting to structure their religio-spiritual reality and the way in which they engage themselves in their faith, this is very dangerous if the “godcanon” stops being a collection of shared experiences and starts being The Rule Of Experiences, where whatever does not match with the “godcanon” is instantly shoved away.

In sum, there is a very dangerous line being walked when you’re identifying a god simply by things like “godcanon” to the point where three things can happen:

1) If God X doesn’t have Y and Z, it’s NOT God X;

2) If God X asks you something that doesn’t correspond to Y and Z, it’s not real; and

2) Y and Z becomes the ultimate expression of God X’s godhood and therefore gives absolutely no room for God X to do Their thing.

Let us apply this to my own personal experience with Cernunnos.

We can reasonably say that there is good cause to see that the Cernunnos that I experience does not match up with the “godcanon” previously bulleted in this post.

So… Who do I have in my bedroom? Who exactly is the subject of my devotions?

And, if it is Him, then what does this mean? What are the implications of this?

Should these questions even matter?

When Cernunnos folded Himself down in my bedroom for the very first time, He provided no reference to pinecones, the smell of the forest, or even His name; I staggered out of my divine experience wondering if it had really been Him. (I was confused for weeks, too, until He made it clear that it was Him).

There was a time where He approached me strictly as an animal, also without words or any sort of indication as to Who or What He was. His actions of prowling around me, of hiding Himself from me in this animalistic way, found me tormented night-after-night, wondering what the fuck I was doing wrong in my devotional path as I desperately hung on to people’s words on pagan blog threads about Him at three in the morning and thinking, “I really got it all wrong.”

Now I am dealing with Him in a way that makes me think I’m working with someone who is blood-related to Odin in his Wild Hunt, Dark (Sexy!) Shaman King mask, complete with ravens, furs and leathers, and stunning, piercing blue eyes. (Yes, not hiding how much I really like Him, especially His eyes).

It was in the last-most Being that I found something else totally shattered for a second time: my way of approaching Him, my way of seeing Him and expecting to act a certain way (I actually wrote a post about that particular ass-kicking HERE). It was all torn out of my fingers and I was basically whipped with it, told to let it go. I know Him as a subversive god (a word I think He placed right there for me while I was writing this particular line). But see, this is the part that is truly the point of this entire post:

He broke my view of Him, the view that I wanted and dreamed about and wanted to engage in and formed by what He was supposed to be, because He wanted me to realize that I wasn’t accepting Him. He instead forced me to see Him for the Person that He truly was. And I had no choice but to be open to Him, to welcome Him, to throw away my doubts and my illusions and instead be able to truly face Him with confidence.

And He did this for a very good reason.

He wanted me to see Him – not what other people saw, not what other people experienced, not what other people offered. He didn’t want me to cling to the mouths of others. He didn’t want the crux of my devotional journey to be weighted against how others saw/felt/experienced Him and just use a process of elimination against the “godcanon” when things got confusing or went south. He wanted me to know that it was okay that there wasn’t any sexual tension, that there weren’t any mentions of spring. He wanted me to know that it was okay that I wasn’t astral traveling, that I wasn’t talking to him 24/7, that I didn’t have a backyard to give offerings in.

In other words, He wanted me to know that the relationship that we had together was just fine – that there was nothing wrong with what we had. He wanted me to have confidence in the relationship that I had developed with Him even when there was little to no support for it found in the pagan communities.

And this is what leads me to the “godcanon” problem that I’ve suffered with for so long, the problem that He allowed me to see and to move past.

Many polytheists, pagans, and witches may come from a background of organized religion, most likely being one of the three Abrahamic faiths. Many also have been raised in a social-mental structure that has roots in the Abrahamic faiths, of which there are three main components:

  1. A stable and highly developed theology of deity
  2. An information-rich and highly organized manner of employing this theology in a meaningful way (code, creed, and ceremony)
  3. A community that preserves, maintains, and forwards #1 and #2 in a way where the religion and the community are absolutely inseparable.

So, of course, we are not wrong in seeking information about our gods, or sharing our experiences with Them, or being able to make a community with this information. In fact, it can be an incredibly powerful and supporting thing, to be able to come together in shared experiences and delineate which ones are the most common or the most strongly shared. This is natural and this is human.

But we are wrong, I think, when we begin establishing something like “godcanon” and sticking to it in the same manner and theology as that of a religion that is structured in a totally different way.

Devotional polytheism is not about how well you can follow the rules. Devotional polytheism is not Catholicism, where there is a church authority that is considered to be just as powerful as Scripture and there is an enormous emphasis on structure, ritual, a set way of how to do things correctly. And I would like to state that I don’t think any kind of polytheism should be about following a “godcanon.” (It is different from following the rules that a deity gave you; in this case, you’re honoring your deity’s wishes in a particular way. You’re not leaning so heavily on the “godcanon” to the point that you have no polytheism without the canon).

We need to stop taking a “monotheist” viewpoint of contemporary polytheism. This “godcanon” issue is one of the most subtle and deadly ones. We need to be careful. 

See, the really bad thing about finding common threads between experiences lies in the dangerous tendency to begin marking those experiences as more legitimate than others. It affects the people who judge an experience and refuse to consider its acceptance into the complexities and Mysteries of the gods if it does not fit neatly into an established canon; and it directly affects the people who experience the gods in ways that are not fitting neatly into an established canon. How? Well, people may come to think that their Relationships aren’t real or are wrong. Maybe people question themselves (and their experiences) constantly in comparison in other people, and so reinforce this behavior to the point of obsession and blindness.

Now, it may seem as if I am saying, “Well, if you DO experience God X with Y and Z, then it can’t be God X because you’re clearly sticking to the godcanon.” No, that is not the case at ALL. I’m not going to start shitting on people who have experienced Him in the ways that are present in the “godcanon.” I am not saying that suddenly any devotee who experiences torcs and snakes and Celtic symbology with Cernunnos are going about it wrong, are not being “open” enough, or are engaging in a shallow way. THIS IS NOT WHAT I’M SAYING. 

What I’m saying is that we can’t put rules on the gods. We can’t limit Them to lists. We can’t chastise people for their experiences when they don’t fit (and when they DO fit!). We can’t treat them like shit or push them away from the community because they had X experience or Y quality with a deity that no one else has has. It’s not an issue of a “special snowflake.” There’s a difference between engaging a devotee in matters of discernment, in a way to genuinely try to understand a person’s way of engagement, in a way where there can be steps taken and support given and to be welcome to the fluidity and characters of the gods… and being a asshole and screaming out “LET’S GET THIS MOTHERFUCKER!”

Yeah, sounds funny, but you think I’m joking. I bet ten dollars some of you are reading this and going, “Yes, yes, yes, I know what you’re talking about.” Again: big difference between offering to ask questions about discernment and being the person who calls for the axes and torches the moment someone even appears to deviate from the “norm.”

We need to be more careful with how we see the gods; we have to allow Them to express Themselves in the way They wish to, not the way we’d like Them to or the way we think They’d like to, should, or ought to do.. It is in this acceptance of plurality that we can come closer to Them, to ourselves, and to each other. Our drive to devotion shouldn’t be, as one of my friends put it, a Work that is devoted to “rewrite” or “write over” the gods in favor of information that’s agreed upon by other people. Neither should our drive be to network a community that accepts one but excises another.

We need to be brave, whether it’s listening to something new or admitting something old or mutually shared. We need to be brave and speak with our gods, no matter how strange Their words might sound. They will let us know how we’re doing. As with all devotional relationships, there is push-and-pull, receptivity-and-reciprocity. We cannot close channels; one of the most painful, and difficult, things I’ve encountered is this action of keeping heart and mind constantly open to Him. Why?

Because it’s difficult to read about another person’s experience that others chime into eagerly, and you’re left wondering what’s wrong with you because you haven’t had it (or the other way around). It’s difficult to be able to live with a Person who may be one way with You but clearly plural with other People in a certain way. It’s difficult when things don’t seem to make sense in the face of the appearance of the totally clear. It’s difficult to have the bravery to be able to even consider opening up a line of communication with other devotees, simply because some people have made it such hostile terrain that it is virtually impossible (and actually dangerous!) to be able to talk about this. And then it’s difficult to be open to your god because you have this sort of idea that there are some things that your god can/should say and some things that your god can’t/shouldn’t say.

Perfect example: today, god-spouses and spirit workers enjoy (somewhat?) a community that is accepting them – and even then, this community is very, very, very small because the larger communities won’t even hear of it. Ten years ago this was certainly not the case; I can only imagine the torment, confusion, and fear of a devotee who received an offer of marriage or Work of spirit-working and wondered what the fuck was going on (not to mention the heavy, sharp criticisms and lack of support that many of them receive still to this day). I remember reading something about Cernunnos that made me, for a long time, believe that offers of a spousal relationship with Him were completely out of the question. (I now know this to not be true, but I wanted to point that out as an example of how dangerous “godcanon” can be in one’s personal relationship with the gods – in other words, it deafens you and is very happy to allow you to have a “filter” that one shouldn’t have. It was strong enough in me that He had to sort of swoop in and break me open).

I asked Arawn about this and he gave me probably the most concise, rich answer I could have ever gotten.

“Yes, I DO think that different Gods have distinct qualities that CAN be identifiable, as both of us see when interfacing with other devotees, but there are JUST as many differences as consistencies.”

The heart of polytheism lies not in the community, but in the gods Themselves. It is through the gods that we can live in community – not the other way around). I also think it’s important to understand that we come together because of our differences and our pluralities. The heart of polytheism should be in loving and honoring our gods as They are, not loving and honoring our gods as how we see Them and/or loving and honoring Them with the caveat that our devotions MUST fit a certain delineation that MUST be shared by a community.

This seems like a point that is useless because everyone would like to do this, but it’s truly one of the most difficult things to do. We are creatures of expectation, especially when dealing with stuff we don’t understand. And when we fall passionately in love with our gods, just as we fall in love with people, we have a sort of “standard” that we place on them – after all, we are human beings, and we judge and we discern. We try to demystify, try to understand, try to commune with Them in communion with others.

But They directly go against everything we know. The gods are fluid and moving. They are constantly the same and constantly changing. And the gods can be, and are, subversive in every single way imaginable and past our imagination. The gods do not operate in a theology of monotheism. The gods are not all-knowing, all-seeing, all-present and fully permeating every second and every atom of reality in past, present, and future. Neither are They cosmic vending machines, free-wish granting spirits, or happy-go-lucky-only-positive-energy beings. And I don’t think we could ever have the right to demand Them to act a certain way, to do certain things, or to otherwise be a Person that They are not – quite like it is unfair to ask something of someone that they cannot do, or demanding than an apple tree bear pears. It’s not happening.

Cernunnos is not limited to certain qualities or images. If you try to engage in Him this way, you may only get shadows – pieces – a caricature of Him. Yes, you may be aware of the ubiquitous presence of Old Hornie, but to know Cernunnos? Are you willing to know? Is He willing to let you know? Those are other matters entirely, and few people have come to engage with Him in this way. It’s not easy to escape the safety of neatly written, organized lines and peer into the eyes of a god.

So with all of this writing, what’s my answer?

I guess my answer is in the posing of a question.

The question shouldn’t be, “Do I have the right deity?” or “Am I seeing this deity in the right way?” or “What do I do with this “godcanon” business?”

The question should be, as Arawn perfectly put it, “How do our different relationships with the SAME deity create a place where we can stand on the same ground and do something meaningful FOR that deity?”

The Importance of Boundaries: Lessons from the Unseelie Court

Boundaries are good – we need them. We need our space; we need our calm; and we need to walk with sovereignty over ourselves and the spaces we claim. We can’t let others crowd into what we’re not comfortable with; we’re not here to be stifled.

“The Kelpie Pond” by Jaimie Whitbread

Originally posted on The Sinking Roots for The Nephilim Rising.

I recently had a situation where a friend of mine was troubled with how to resolve a problem of hers. This friend of mine is a powerful Woman – a Lion Queen, with her mane of golden-red hair and that striking sovereignty that is simply natural in her. She is a woman I admire greatly, and whom I hold in high respect. This friend of mine is unstoppable, fierce, powerful in her impulsion… but in the face of a wrong that had been done to her, my friend finds herself unable to stand her ground.

“I feel bad,” she’s told me nervously. “I don’t want to sound like a bitch.”

“Sound like a bitch?” I asked, with a touch of outrage. “So this person is continually overstepping your boundaries, disrespecting you, and that’s what you’re worried about?”

I think about where I am now – where I can say such things naturally, and be unafraid to put my foot down and tell it like it is. I remember times where I let people stomp all over me, and I would apologize when I wasn’t allowing myself to be stomped on. I remember times where I didn’t speak out, when I allowed people to control me, and when I bowed my head and slaved for others.

I remember a time when I had no boundaries, when others dictated to me the things that I loved, the things that I hated, and the person who they thought I was. I remember being spoken for, being lied for, and having my voice spoken in the throats of people who simply assumed that they could. I remember that many years of my life were dedicated to having pieces of myself jingling in other people’s pockets, and that there was outrage when I made the decision to begin collecting all of those pieces, one by one, personally.

And that – that – is what gives me those touches of anger that are so rare in a calm, collected person such as myself. That is what makes me never forget that I am a Queen – that, even with my compassion, my softness, and my generous nature, I have no problem putting my foot down and informing people cleanly that, if my boundaries are crossed, I have no trouble making them pay for it.

Presently, the Unseelie Court is considered to be a “Court of Evil.” These Fae are seen as wayward Creatures who thirst for blood, destruction, and chaos. They are the Creatures we fear the most, both in Themselves and in us: kelpies, vampires, red caps, and banshees, just to name a few. In many writings, They are Creatures ruled by passion with an especial taste for tricking, lying to, and harming human beings. Every action is imbued with malicious intent against life, dignity, and honor.

In a way, we disrespect this Court with our opinions – and our teachings – that dark will always mean evil. In a way, too, we disrespect ourselves. We educate that our shadow sides, our darknesses, and our deeper selves are evil simply because they are submerged in shadow and carry different tendencies from what we think is the “correct” one.

In Irish and Scottish mythology, these Creatures were not seen as evil. They were recognized as amoral – as coming from another world, as Those who operated on a completely different set of morality from ours. They were seen as masters of Their land and gifts, Those who were respected – and feared. They were seen as holy in Their darknesses and crucial to the cycles of life and death.

There’s a nuance in this approach: a rethinking of perception of what is good, holy, and necessary.

Allow me to explain it like this, using the example of a kelpie.

Kelpies are present in Scottish mythology as Creatures who rule over the lakes and bogs. Besides taking the forms of a handsome man or a beautiful woman, kelpies are also called “water-horses” as They can take the shape of a gorgeous horse in order to lure humans to their deaths. The legends say never to touch a wild horse by the lakes, for they are most likely a kelpie; if you touch them, you will stick to their skin and be pulled into the lake, where you are drowned and then torn apart for a meal.

This behavior is horrifying isn’t it? “Clearly malicious!” we may say. “This is a Creature of evil! Kelpies are out to get us! We have no reason to give Them our respect!”

The Kelpie will reply, “Malicious? You step into my boundaries, my Household, and so you are subject to my rules.”

And I think that there can be a great lesson in this way of thinking.

Too many times have I found that my World has been infringed upon. Too many times I have thought, “I am uncomfortable in this situation, but I don’t want to sound like a bitch,” just like my friend had voiced.

Too many times I have been told, “Grin it and bear it – it’s just how things are.”

And too many times I have said, “It’s okay. You can do that” when, truly, I never meant it one bit.

I find that women, especially, are taught that they have an obligation to allow boundaries to be constantly violated – or, even, to have absolutely no boundaries at all – for the sake of other people. If it’s not for our parents, it’s for our partners. If it’s not for our partners, it’s for our children. If it’s not for our children, then it’s for other men. (Men, too, are taught that boundaries should always be overstepped – that their own boundaries should be extremely strict especially when it comes to expressing emotions and dealing with other men).

There is this horrifying cultural notion that the woman only becomes woman in self-sacrifice. The woman is celebrated only in her martyrdom. She puts down her sovereignty for others, puts down her art and her writing and her learning. She will even put down her own food and water — and she will starve, selflessly. She will face problems with a beautiful smile – she will carry her sexual frustrations with grace – and she will hold her head high if her husband lays his hands on her. The woman will always owe something to others, because her duty lies not in herself, but in others. The perfect woman only, and always, finds fufillment in others.

And any woman who dares set boundaries, who dares to claim her space, who dares speak out… any woman who dares… is dismissed, dismantled, and broken. She is deemed unfit for society, and then others take it upon themselves to make decisions on her behalf.

Don’t get me wrong: I am not saying that women who sacrifice themselves are not women. I am not saying that those who decide to live their lives for others are not women. What I am saying is that there are cultural and social ideas that mandate a certain kind of behavior from a woman – and it is a mandate that makes boundaries forbidden. “Women can’t decide for themselves: women must do this.” In many ways, it’s the same with men. “Men can’t express feelings. Men can’t show that they are uncomfortable, sad, or nervous. Men must express their strength in anger, domination, and control – there is no other way. They can’t decide for themselves; men must do this.”

The Kelpie thinks otherwise.

We have this obsession with being liked and being accepted. We worry constantly about what others think of us, especially in an age where we are constantly connected. Social media allows us to never be alone, to be torturously open to what other people write about us (whether favorable or not).

We can’t commit a faux pas. We can’t just say what we mean. We have to hide our feelings and our words. We can’t be honest with each other; what we really mean to say is said only in the subtext of our conversations. We can’t hurt feelings and we can’t claim space. We’re always supposed to be okay, and wear a smile.

Every day, the Masks we wear become thicker, more elaborate… and, every day, it is harder to take it off. Every day, it sticks a little bit more to your face. And therein lies the fear. “What will happen if I take off this Mask? What will happen when I put my foot down? What will happen when I claim myself, fully, in front of everyone… and in front of myself? And what will happen when, one day, this Mask becomes my face?”

Don’t have a mask at all, then, I hear the Kelpie snort. And make sure that everyone knows it. 

Boundaries are good – we need them. We need our space; we need our calm; and we need to walk with sovereignty over ourselves and the spaces we claim. We can’t let others crowd into what we’re not comfortable with; we’re not here to be stifled. When people come into our space, into our homes, into our lives, there is a certain way that they should comport themselves. We should place clear expectations on what others should and shouldn’t do with us. We have every right to be respected, as any other person should be. If we give someone respect, we deserve it in turn; there are some people who walk around with double-standards, and, in all honesty, that should be unacceptable.

You are not obligated to fall to your knees and serve another person’s demands in your own house. You are not obligated to accept that people will simply walk all over you and that such behavior is okay. When you tell a visitor that they cannot touch a certain picture, or wander into a certain room, it’s your responsibility to uphold that as it is their responsibility to respect that. And you are not obligated to remain silent when you feel uncomfortable, if only for maintaining good posture. You’re not here for the enjoyment of others, and neither is the Kelpie.

The Kelpie demands respect – the Kelpie watches you walk into His house and will test you. If you think you can walk into His lakes and His bogs with ownership that isn’t yours, then the penalty is clear: death. You do not get to walk into my House, says the Kelpie, and tell me how it should be run. You do not get to live if I do not give you the permission to do so. You want to pet Me when I step up to you, even though you know that I should not be petted? That’s your problem and there are consequences to your actions. You should know how to comport yourself in a House that is not yours; you would expect the same from me if our roles were reversed.

When one steps into the wilderness, that is not your territory – and you must respect that. You must walk with respect, consideration, and a sharp mind. This is dangerous ground, and you must walk with caution. Develop your relationships, yes, but always keep in mind that there will always be another soul, and it is not your place to tame that soul. It is your place to treat it with courtesy – as one would when they are stepping into any Home or any Kingdom.

That includes, most of all, yourself.