4/31 Foundations: Day-to-Day Practice

From Ree na Réaltaí‘s 30 days of Paganism/Polytheism.

4/31: Foundations: Day-to-Day Practice – An explanation of your day-to-day practices, and how you incorporate those practices into daily life.

At some point in the morning, after I shower and change and when I am all done with my morning procrastination, I open my ancestor altar (it is inside a jewelry box) which consists of some photos, funeral cards, and objects that belonged to my nearest ancestors, and a stone made of fossil shells to represent my ancestors as distant as life on this planet. In front of it are two skull candleholders that represent the hamingja of my two families: blood and adoptive, and a list of all of the dead ancestors I know by name. I refresh the glass of water that sits inside the altar, light the candles and burn up a piece of Hell Money to each family (since I don’t live the life where I make fresh bread every morning), and thank them. I give to them as they continue to give to me.

(I try my best to treat that altar, when open, as if my most conservative ancestress were there before me, and close it at all other times.)

I go through the day. I greet Sunna if She is shining, and Mani if I see Him in the sky. I pray to Loki as “Mother of the Horse” if I have to sprint for a bus. (I may find myself doing devotional cardio one of these days)

My day is pretty boring. I thank the guiding spirit of my workplace (a call center) if I get easy calls, or interesting ones, or ones that end right on time for my break.

I come home from work late at night and dick about on the internet for a while. Before bed I talk to Njord, and I come with offerings. Some gin if I am making myself a drink, otherwise salt water and juniper incense. His image right now is a novena candle of San Cipriano, under a symbolic roof, with an offering plate of beach glass and coins at his feet, and beside him a granite-and-quartz rock from Lake Superior and several freshwater pearls dedicated to His wife Nerthus.

If I am feeling formal or distant, I will recite some of his titles and deeds. I will tell him about progress in a few of the difficult things of my life I have asked for his help in: finding a new house, finding a new job. Sometimes I just thank him and talk one-sided, but if I ask questions I will pull a tarot card to help understand His responses (even so, my understanding can be biased and garbled). Sometimes I meditate (though the mess in my life has made concentration difficult) or simply sit in His presence.

That’s my daily baseline, right now, though a few weeks ago it looked totally different. The gods that I spend most of my time with change depending on my life, and Their demands, but I can’t maintain daily devotion to more than one or two deities at a time. I have other god images in my room and bring some of them offerings and prayers once or twice a week, and some of them much less than that.

Some god-images are not always up, and receive offerings situationally, and some Gods I pray to without any images at all (koinos Hermês, “Hermes of the Commons” I consider the patron of Little Free Libraries, and Exu Okkada the orisha of the curb and dumpster, both of whom get my offerings regularly)

3/31 Foundations: Nature and Earth

From Ree na Réaltaí‘s 30 days of Paganism/Polytheism.

3. Foundations: Nature & Earth – How you view nature and the earth, and your relationship with it.

My relationship with nature, and the whole world both mundane and spiritual, is characterized (ideally) by reciprocity.
I believe that every thing, creature, and place, has a soul. This is a picky distinction to make, so it might be difficult to describe: I don’t worship a tree, or the ground, or this lake; I worship the spirit that indwells a tree, or that watches over a piece of ground, or lives in the lake and participates in the life of its inhabitants. The same way the tales of a God do not limit that God, or fully describe Them, a spirit of a thing or place is not reduceable to its objective form.

Ideally, people’s religious life would inform all of their actions, and their relationship to the spirits of the things and places around them would take up quite a lot of their attention. The relationships, devotional or friendly, contentious or harmonious, would be as individual as the people and spirits involved in them. The reality of those interrelationships (not only between people and spirits, but spirits and spirits) would impel people to treat the places they live respectfully, to not hoard or waste, to recognize individuality rather than interchangeability, and to ask for help and give help when it is needed.

The modern world has pulled us away from two facts: no matter how post-processed any of the things we need and own are, everything around us comes from the natural world. The air we breathe comes from plant life. The food we eat was once living beings. The computer monitor in front of us was once sand, and metal from the most dangerous and toxic of mines, and the increasingly scarce blood and bodies of primordial life, and thousands of hours of labor of our fellow humans.

That one is hard to internalize. But as abstracted away from harvesting and craftsmanship as we may be, it seems to be even harder to remember that individual humans are not only dependent on the earth, we also participate in its life. So many people focus their environmentalist efforts on becoming more and more invisible: To eat less of the wrong things. To recycle and compost their personal garbage. To get so wrapped up in the evils that human civilization has committed that we can only envision the ideal world as one where there were no humans at all.

But that in some ways ignores both our culpability and our power. We made this civilization, and we can unmake it, but we have to set our focus on stopping and changing the parts that are broken: the parts that deny individuality, that are based on interchangeability, that pull people away from the lives around them, and that externalize costs onto things and people that are denied power. To continue to not address the harm going on around us, and to instead buy a glass water bottle and start composting is like cleaning the kitchen because you feel bad your cat puked on your roommate’s bed. Yes, okay, do that too. But first clean up the puke.

“clean up the puke,” my environmentalist manifesto. Okay!

2/31 Foundations: Cosmology

From Ree na Réaltaí‘s 30 days of Paganism/Polytheism.

Foundations: Cosmology – How you see the universe and its make-up.

Uh oh, time for the equivocation!

I believe in the evidence of my eyes, above all other things. I believe there are things yet to be desired from many of the sciences: a fuller understanding of social and cultural factors when they are relevant to experimental conclusions, and an examination of bias and blind spots in the disciplines, for two examples, but I have no bone to pick with almost any “secular” exploration of the world. The sciences are not “missing out” on examining the spiritual or searching for it through an experimental frame of reference. I believe the skeptical-experimental frame of reference – because personal experience cannot be proven or disproven – has very little to say to or about the content of religion.

I believe there are gods and spirits: of the dead, of places and things. I believe they exist in and alongside all parts of this world. I believe they emerge are understood through the dialectical relationship of humans and their environment, and all language used to describe them and interaction with them is at best metaphor and approximation.

Does that definition leave room for a variety of ultimate realities, including one in which the independent existence of deities could be proven experimentally AND one in which they exist outside the individual only as part of the collective unconscious? Yes!

The need of some spiritual people, once they have found a “whyfore” to reality that satisfies them, to not only agitate for that explanation to be adopted universally, but also bend facts and practice pseudoscience to “prove” that their explanation is “true” bothers me. I dispute the utility of that type of truth value – ‘this thing is true because it is proven by experiment’ – even if their science was sound, for many types of truth. The reality of my personal experience is unassailable, for me, but not universal, or provable in that way. To prefer proof by experiment accidentally admits that that person is not confident in the reality of their own experience. (a phenomenon, alas, not confined to experiential religion.)

I am open to my understanding evolving, but to me, Midgard and Malkuth are one and the same: the realm of ordinary experience. The place where I am and where I will live my entire life. Overlaid with this world are all the others.

Similarly I believe in mythic time. The god tales of my or any other faith happen cyclically or simultaneously: Thor is born of Jord. Odin and Loki meet. Baldr walks the Hel-road. Ymir is dismembered to make the worlds. The fires of Ragnarok consume. Fenris-ulfr is fostered to Tyr. They “make sense” narratively when told from “beginning” to “end” but beyond that they connect in a web of religious mystery – I accept backwards causality, as well as the truth of multiple versions of the same “story”.

I believe that my set of god tales are 100% compatible with the existence and equal reality of any other set of god-tales. Yahweh separated the light from the darkness. Set contends with his brother Wesir. Oya becomes the favorite wife of Shango. Aphrodite is born of the castrated organ of Uranus as it falls into the sea. They do not describe material reality, but encode relationships that elucidate meaning. Myths create the world as they describe it, because the world is understood through them.

1/31, Introduction: Paganism/Polytheism &Your Path

For the sake of some structure, I will be trying to coherently answer the prompts in Ree na Réaltaí‘s 30 Days of Paganism/Polytheism (via tumblr)

1/31, Introduction: Paganism/Polytheism & Your Path – your story of how you came to your paganistic/polytheistic faith and what your current path is.

The story of how I got from there to here could be as long as a shelf of biographies, and include every single day, but I am good and can edit. I think human beings understand polytheism/animism innately: we are good at attributing agency to events, we are good at interacting with things that are like humans in ways that are like talking. We live in a world characterized by many things that are individual and distinct.

Which is to say, I spent my childhood talking to trees and picking apart plants, learning and elaborating on ghost stories set in my grade school, playing with divination and trance, and building what I would now call astral palaces with my friends. I know it meant more to me than some of them, unless they also went forward with feelings like, “I wonder if anyone else remebers those stupid kid games.”

But then I got smart, and liked to feel better than everyone else, and found both some of the most interesting edges of science, and atheism. I liked how radical it was, and it satisfied my spiritual-longing in an inverse way; there is no meaning but what you make, it said, and if there is a why to things, it is absolutely inaccessible; religious belief is human error to overcome. It was a faith like Kant’s – he believed so strongly in a god of Rationality, he had to accept that Rationality could never prove or access that very God.

It took me a while to fully integrate into that community, and if I am honest, I spent MUCH more of my time questioning-Wiccan, uncomfortably Christian, or agnostic. It took me until reading Ayaan Hirsi Ali to admit that no, you cannot put the good caused by a concept or institution like Religion or a religion and weigh it against the bad, and come to a conclusion about its value. I spent a long time, actually, in that period referring to myself as a “discordian Atheist” or a “mystical Atheist” because I thought and think there is a core of human experience that rationality cannot touch or explain or really have anything to do with, and I liked to gadfly my own community about the ways in which it was full of bias and privilege and magical thinking.

I am coming more and more to realize now that Atheism-as-a-social-and-political movement is primarily full of refugees from various Christianities (and other Abrahamic faiths), and is specifically anti-Christian/anti-Abrahamic (and therefore it has very little to say to polytheism-as-a-worldview) but that is a topic for a different day.

To transition between mystical-Atheism and where I am now, I want to start with Loki, but really there were some others that paved the way.

One of them was Elf. She definitely does not know how influential she was to me, but since I had abandoned Wicca in my teen years for a variety of reasons, she showed me a window into a Pagan practice that was both absurd and serious, moving and trivial, with a community of others who (despite drama) took their religion seriously.

One of them was Nisi Shawl.  A fantastic writer whose every work you ought to read, she was at a panel at a beloved Sci Fi/Fantasy convention of mine, talking about postcolonialism and magic realism. I paraphrase, but the straightforward way she said, “magic realism? Excuse me, this is just my reality.” baked my noodle for days. She practices, I believe, Lucumi. She and others “made it real” when I had swallowed the belief that my religion options were one of the monotheisms, one of the Buddhisms, or an aggressive nothing.

As uncomfortable as it makes me, I have to thank the aspects of internet fan culture without which I would never have gotten here. I am familiar with the boom and bust cycles of my own interest in media, and I am also familiar with loving a particular aspect of a tacky, unimpressive, or otherwise imperfect show or film; but comic!Loki hit hard and unexpectedly. Gregory Maguire’s Elphaba, the next-nearest green antihero with whom I identify did not absorb my life nearly so ferociously. Thanks to comics and fan culture’s certainty that everything belongs to them, I read aspects of mythic Loki as they were pulled into character analyses and stories, and sought out the myths themselves. I dove into writing criticism and analyses myself, and it took me quite a lot of words before I realized the being I was so ardently defending was the comic book guy only in name.

I started a cosplay in May. The feeling that I NEEDED TO was overwhelming. It was a little confusing to me, since, while I do sew and like to sew, and sculpt and like to sculpt, I vastly prefer natural materials, and a comic!Loki cosplay would be committing several months to my unfavorites, pleather and plastic. “Okay!” I said to that impulse, “Fuck it, I’ll do it!”

I would recognize that impulse as external, from where I am today. I don’t know if the note from Loki was a magnet-pull of “Pay Attention!” that I persisted in attributing to the more familiar feelings of fandom and obsession, or if I really needed to commit to several months of pleather and plastic and handsewing and staring at photos in order to be convinced of my own ability to follow through on a project and stick around, but that’s how it happened.

The searching and learning from there to finding other reconstructionists and recon-derived folks, the traditions and practices, the research, setting aside shrine space, is probably more familiar to anyone who might be reading this than all that other stuff.

Where I am now, I am trying to honor the Gods of the Northern pantheons. I am trying to revive a connection with my ancestors. I am trying to connect to a certainty of belief in the spirits of place all around me.

I am uncertain of the dividing line between an egregore of belief and an independent spirit. I am uncertain that long-abandoned traditions can be revived, and that some unworshipped deities have not faded away for good. I am uncertain, and I think I will always be, that I am not simply playing games inside my head, but I try to focus on positive change: that even if I am doing something vastly different in a year or ten years, that I will still call this period of my life good, as I call the Catholicism and the Atheism and the Wicca and the childhood divination games also good.

A kind of unconventional ancestor story

Sometimes it’s just a tiny thing that makes a person pivotal in your history.

Once upon a time in grade school, I had a teacher that took some kids aside to teach them reading: the kids who needed extra help and the ones who were ahead of the class and needed other material.

I don’t remember how this conversation started but it strikes me as something she just needed to say. It was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and – we were just kids. We had already heard the most feel-good outlines of what the day, and Martin Luther King, and civil rights were about, and that was it.

She told a different version of that story.

She said she had marched with Dr. King. She was a pear-shaped white woman with straight salt-and-pepper hair. She said she was so afraid before each march, that the police would attack or arrest them, or put dogs or fire hoses on them, that she would be sick some store or restaurant bathroom. And then she would wash up and go out and march.

It was a strange story to hear. First of all, I had no idea there were white people that marched with Dr. King.  I had no idea that there were dogs or firehoses or police brutality, before that. The story didn’t make sense if I mixed it with what I already knew. What I had understood was, “if you are sick or afraid, someone takes care of you.” and “Justice is self-evident and top-down and righteous and easy.”

Those things were clearly not true, or at least not true for everyone! It is funny to recognize looking back to see how weird and segregated the child’s version of the MLK story is. “The bad white people (what did the other white people do?) wouldn’t give the black people their rights, so all the black people marched around and had rallies and then they (who? President Kennedy?) gave the rights to them.” I was a fairly clever kid who didn’t like a story with holes in it. She gave me some new facts instead, that fit much better:

“You don’t necessarily know who “Us” is. You don’t necessarily know who “Them” is.”

“Some things are difficult and scary and you do them because they are right.”

“Getting arrested and beaten on is not as bad as injustice.”

A huge part of my religious path right now is ancestor veneration. I can’t and sometimes feel like I am not supposed to be religious on a very large scale. I have trouble honoring, someone like (for example) Dr. King, unless I went to a ceremony in my city led by someone else. I can’t pray for people I don’t know.

But this woman: I can’t remember her name, and I don’t even know if she is still living, but I hold those truths right next to my heart, and I try to honor her in action for contributing to the person I am.