After the Tower Falls

I staunchly maintain that there’s no such thing as a bad Tarot card. However, I have to admit some are a damn sight more uncomfortable than others. One of the best illustrations of this concept is the Tower, and that’s the card I’ve been living for the past few months. I’ve finally moved into the realm of the Star, though, and looking back I’m once more reminded that the Tower is only scary until we gain perspective from its passing.

The Towers leads into the Star. Both cards from Le Tarot Noir are shown with an rightward-facing arrow between them.

My life in Tarot card form. Images from Le Tarot Noir.

The Tower’s Fall

The first brick of my personal Tower fell when I was suddenly laid off last May from my job of three years (hence my lengthy blog hiatus around that time). Everything – and I do mean everything – kind of dominoed after that.

As might be expected my professional life profoundly changed with the layoff. My finances went into a period of freefall and necessitated an unwanted change in location too. My personal life and health both experienced dramatic flux. With all of that going on I fell face-down into a rather wicked lake of depression, which led to a period of withdrawal that was extreme even for me (I tend to be fairly naturally withdrawn to begin with).

Thing is, I stubbornly (and perhaps obliviously) thought all of these changes were isolated. It can be hard to see the whole Tower when you’re dodging individual bricks! It was only when I stopped dodging that I could see the true extent of the devastation.

Standing in the Rubble

There’s a clarity that comes in the aftermath of a disaster, a quiet shock that allows us to observe our surroundings without filter or bias. As the dust settled I stumbled into the middle of what once was a pretty cozy life and looked around.

What exactly had been destroyed? What random parts still stood, and did they need to be rebuilt or further demolished? Going deeper, what weaknesses and strengths were exposed by the Tower’s fall? What lessons had this all taught me?

And then I had to go deeper still. Previously I had thought that I was made up of all the things that had fallen down. That obviously wasn’t true, though, because I was about the only thing left standing. So who exactly was the Me standing dazedly in the rubble?

I’ve spent months diligently answering these questions. At times it’s felt like my own little archaeological excavation. There have been bits and pieces I’ve tossed over my shoulder with a shrug and a “good riddance”. Others I’ve further destroyed with a sledgehammer while laughing in maniacal glee. There have been heirlooms I’ve bitterly wept over before deciding they couldn’t be salvaged, things that inspired a sense of vindication by their very survival, and a few lost items newly exposed that I had to learn about all over again.

I’ve reassessed who I am and the foundations on which I stand. It’s been an interesting journey, this sorting and evaluation process, but after all of it was done I was left with one overwhelming question: what now?

Star-Gazing

In the Major Arcana the Tower is immediately followed by the Star. There’s a reason for that. When all of our walls have come down and we’re ready to rebuild, the Star’s gifts of hope, faith, and renewal guide us forward.

What I’ve seen by the Star’s light has been transformative.

For years I’ve known that my Lady wants me to live a life grounded in my spirituality. Even more than that, She’s pushed for a more holistic and integrated life, one where all of the pieces work together instead of against each other. After all, it’s not like I can grow into my full potential when my life is shoved into tidy but limiting boxes.

Thing is, I’ve agreed with Her. The need for a holistic life is an obvious conclusion to draw and I’ve been fine with the idea of it. It’s just that every time I actually started Doing the Work to make it happen something stopped me. Often I stopped myself. Some changes required tearing down support structures in my life that I thought I needed or relied upon. Other changes were intimidating, overwhelming, or even baffling.

All the motion without forward progress resulted in nothing truly changing at all.

Dithering over taking action is a luxury I no longer have. Despite my best efforts everything crashed down anyway. What was incredibly scary at the time has turned out to be freeing, because there’s nothing left to block me anymore. My life is open and receptive, the walls are down, and I can build whatever I want to encourage me to grow however I want. The Tower’s fall wasn’t a disaster, it was the start of a brand new opportunity.

I’m still working on what this looks like, to be honest. I don’t know where it’s going, only have the vaguest end game in mind, and I’m feeling it out as I go.

The biggest and arguably most profound change is that I am now working full-time as a diviner, spiritual consultant, and content producer. This swings from intimidating to thrilling by the day, and sometimes I wonder if it’s the right thing long-term. It’s honestly too early to tell on that yet. Things are looking good so far, though, and I do know that it’s absolutely the best thing for me right now. I need to pursue paying work that feeds my spirit, and this fits that bill admirably.

When I’m not reading for clients I’m working on my own Tarot deck, wrapping up the book I’ve been writing, prepping classes I’m teaching, taking classes as a student, and learning about alternative methods of interacting with our political process. I’m also toying with the idea of writing a devotional for my Lady, since there isn’t one for Her and I find that to be not ok. MystikNomad’s new internet home is being prepped as we speak and will hopefully go live over the next few months. I’m presenting at a conference this summer, too, and will likely be relocating sometime in the next year or so.

So many changes! So much forward momentum! So much amazingness in store! And none of it would have been possible had my personal Tower not fallen. I find that comforting, actually, because it reaffirms my faith that even utter destruction is a way to clear the path for future growth. I’m excited to see the harvest from what I’m currently planting, and I’m so glad all of you are here to appreciate the blooms too.

 

Reclaiming My “No” and Consent Culture

The elements of Consent: Freely Given, Reversible, Informed, Enthusiastic, and Specific.

I walked out of a leadership training session this past weekend.

There were close to 200 people there, most having incredibly transformative experiences. I was encouraged to attend by a friend, and people I’ve never met worked behind the scenes to ensure I could. Investments were made with me, for me, to get me through the course. I met other people I liked there. And five hours before it was over, when all the hard stuff was out of the way, I calmly and lovingly explained myself to six different people who wanted me to stay and walked out.

It was one of the most empowering things I’ve ever done.

Prologue

A large bulk of my childhood was a series of abusive situations, and for awhile my adult life wasn’t much better. I learned early on, back when I was a very small child, that resistance – resistance of any kind at all, to anything – led to harm and pain. So I never really learned how.

I had exactly as much resistance to anything as a glass of water has to incoming ice. Picture shows a glass of water with a dropped ice cube just before it breaches the surface.

I pushed back as much as this water will when that ice cube finally hits it.

I filled whatever container I was given. I said, did, and became whatever was asked of me. I meekly accepted whatever happened, nodded and smiled, stuffed down every “bad” emotion and put on a happy face for everyone’s benefit but mine.

And all of it was a lie. Every single solitary bit of it. Because how could any “yes” be real when “no” wasn’t an option?

The Value of Consent

When I was in my early 20s a friend invited me out to a BDSM event. She said I would find myself there. I was a bit hesitant about the whole thing but I went anyway.

I’m glad I did. It was there that I was introduced to “Consent Culture”. It completely changed my life. (I talk about it here too, albeit in a sexual context. If you’re not familiar with consent as a code of conduct – or even if you are – maybe click the link and check it out. It’s that important.)

Consent Culture is based on the idea that every single one of us is independent, autonomous, and empowered. The rules are simple: a “no” is to be assumed in the absence of permission, stated boundaries are to be immediately honored and respected, and the power of the “yes” always resides with the one who gave it.

Consent – the “power of the yes” – is as easy as FRIES.

The elements of Consent: Freely Given, Reversible, Informed, Enthusiastic, and Specific.

Hooray for the elements of consent in an easy-to-remember form!

So let’s look at that.

  • Freely Given: A “yes” must be given only because the person giving it wants to. No guilt-tripping or other emotional manipulation. No ultimatums. No coercion or threats of any kind. The person saying it also can’t be in a highly vulnerable or chemically-altered state at the time. Permission is freely given or it’s not given at all.
  • Reversible: The person who said “yes” can change their mind at any time, for any reason, and that’s absolutely ok. Even if they agree to have a boundary pushed past a stated or signaled “no”, they still get a safeword that recognizes the reversal of their “yes”. The power remains theirs.
  • Informed: People can’t agree to do something if they don’t know what they’re agreeing to. It’s important to be clear at the start. Changes or unexpected developments require additional permissions, which must also be FRIES.
  • Enthusiastic: The person saying “yes” must be into it, excited about it, saying “Bring it on!”. This point especially relies on examining body language and tone. Reluctance of any kind is an assumed “no”.
  • Specific: Agreeing to one thing in no way implies agreeing to something else. Agreeing to something today in no way implies agreeing to it tomorrow. Each permission given is for that specific thing in that specific moment. Anything beyond that requires another permission.

Empowering and supporting people with the concept of consent is what allows us all to have real, valid choice. And it’s the act of choosing that moves us from a life we have to live to a life we are blessed to live.

“Yes” has no meaning without “no” to give it context.

The Training

Consent Culture is pretty much a given in the BDSM scene, most Pagan/Polytheist groups I’ve encountered, and feminist-oriented spaces. It’s also the baseline from which I operate. Sadly, however, it’s not widely understood in more mainstream society (although progress is being made all the time).

It was absolutely foreign to the training in which I was engaged. And while I get that the program is designed to push our buttons, and for some folks the framing is helpful, I found it all to be incredibly manipulative.

Throughout the course, over and over, it was reiterated that any resistance we felt towards the material wasn’t about the material. Of course not! It was, instead, the result of something undesirable in ourselves, something that the material would help us break through and/or overcome. They told us that our inner voice was not to be trusted and listening to it was self-sabotage. They told us that every trauma/illness we’ve ever experienced (up to and including cancer – that was specifically mentioned several times) was because we invited it in by not being positive enough.

And according to their rhetoric, anything other than agreement with all of the above was by definition wrong. Add in the fact that the speaker was speaking from a position of “authority” and it all seamlessly worked together to invalidate our “no”.

Furthermore, the whole premise was that we’re blocked or stymied by unnecessary internal walls we build throughout our lives. And I agree with that to a point. I even talk about it here, although using different terminology. Some of our boundaries are indeed arbitrary. However, some of them are necessary for health and safety. Never once were we offered a single tip or technique to help us discern the difference. I found that disturbing, and for some folks that could be downright dangerous.

With all that said, though, I’m a very results-oriented person. I’d heard amazing things about breakthroughs people had with these techniques. The friend who encouraged me to take the class said it changed his life. He had dozens of people on speed-dial who told me amazing things, too. I decided that, for the weekend, I would do my best to trust the process and go with it.

That worked until the last exercise of Saturday night.

It was completely based on platonic physical contact with other people. At first we were given a choice about our level of engagement. However, it was made very clear at the start that choosing anything less than the highest engagement level was deficient.

Ok then. I didn’t like the setup but I was still game. After a bit of that, though, even the illusion of choice was taken away. Not cool. I almost balked completely at that point, but I just wanted to be fucking done. So. Continue.

Then a guy grabbed me, painfully groped me, and propositioned me. In the middle of the exercise. Amidst 200 people.

A clown stands in the doorway of a scary overgrown building.

Not exactly a vibe that encourages trust.

Three strikes and I’m done. I found the entire exercise, from beginning to end, to be a demo of consent violations. The groping was just the cherry on top.

Between the low lighting, the speed we were moving, and my shock I honestly couldn’t say what the guy looked like. With no one specific to report I didn’t have much recourse. And if this guy was willing to behave that inappropriately in a room with almost 200 people, what would he be willing to do if there were fewer people around, or if he caught me alone somewhere? I couldn’t answer those questions, but I did know that someone there had already blatantly crossed a line. Given the tenor of the training I also had no reason to trust that anyone on staff, with the notable exception of the friend who encouraged me to go, would have my back. (That was later substantiated, but I’m getting ahead of myself.)

So I did what I always do when threatened: put on my happy face, kept my back to the wall as much as possible, moved with purpose, and removed myself from the situation with urgency.

Once I got home and processed I realized that I didn’t want to let one guy ruin what until then had overall been a good experience for me. I decided to go back and finish it out. I’d already invested so much and worked so hard that staying home felt like quitting.

Vintage image of a woman in an apron rolling up her sleeves. Text reads

Rollin’ up my sleeves and gettin’ to work. Aw, yeah.

Sunday started out ok. I was trying my best to focus on the constructive parts of the event and could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Then we had an exercise where I stood in one place and answered the same question over and over while someone got in my face and yelled at me. I knew what was coming, knew it could be triggering, and knew I was still shaky from the night before. Because I knew these things I was careful to pick a partner for the exercise that in no way registered as threatening. I was as safe as I could arrange to be.

It was fine until two staff members I didn’t choose unexpectedly joined in. Suddenly I had three people – two of them in authority positions – getting into my face and yelling at me. The switch flipped.

I did not consent to that level of interaction, and my repeated attempts to say so – my “no” and “quiet” and “time” and even “red” – were ignored. Once more my consent was hugely violated. I no longer felt safe.

I immediately escaped the area, regrouped in the bathroom, and assessed my options.

  1. Stuff it all down, pretend everything was fine, and power my way through the little that was left. I was almost done, and I could have managed it without anyone being the wiser. However, the whole experience would then have been tainted for me, because I’d know I’d only gotten through it by falling back into my established patterns after a violation. I’m trying to break old patterns, not reinforce them!
  2. Create a huge scene, making the rest of the event all about these consent violations and how I felt as a result. However, no one would have been served by that. It wouldn’t have done anything to make me feel better, the feelings of my attacker were so not my concern, and it would have disturbed the peace and accomplishment everyone else was feeling from all of this.
  3. Exercise my power and agency by quietly informing staff about what had happened and then leaving. That choice allowed me to support my integrity by not accepting continued consent violations or behaving inauthentically, support the rest of the attendees by not interrupting their experience with mine, and support the aims of the program as a whole (even if I personally disagree with the approach and implementation).

With it laid out like that the choice was clear. I am, after all, a woman of power and integrity. So I walked.

Picture of Christopher Walken holding up a pair of boots. Text reads

Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

Walking Out

I didn’t just grab my shit and hit the door, however tempted I was and justified I may have been. I’m proud of that.

And let’s be real, they could have maybe talked me into staying with the right approach. I was almost done, and gods know I enjoy completion. What I needed for that to happen was threefold:

  1. Staff to acknowledge that there were consent-based issues that needed to be addressed.
  2. Assurance that I had their support if I decided to move forward with the program.
  3. Some sense that my experience (and the experiences of a few others I heard about while there, because no it wasn’t just me) would maybe inspire them to work on ensuring a safer space was created and maintained in the future.

That’s it.

The friend that originally encouraged me to attend got it, but he couldn’t do anything except help me leave.

The first (male) staff member I spoke with who had any authority tried to gaslight me, supported my attacker’s intent while calling me “reactive”, and majorly guilt-tripped me. The second (female) staff member tried more emotional manipulation, complete with tears, to get me to stay. Both of them, representatives of a program supposedly based on integrity and authenticity, advised me to fake my way through the rest of the training so I wasn’t disturbing the other attendees, abandoning my exercise partner, or blocked from further trainings with their organization.

Every non-supportive thing they did further violated my consent. Swallowing that, not standing up for myself and my integrity and my choices, would have let me down.

And they didn’t even see it.

As soon as that first staff member started spouting his nonsense it ceased to be about me. It’s not like I needed their understanding or some sense of closure for myself. All I could think about is what could happen if someone who wasn’t entrenched in Consent Culture encountered the same things I did. How much of that rhetoric would they internalize? I can resource other people as sounding boards and sanity checks – what about those people who can’t? How would someone else respond in the face of the non-support I received?

That shifted everything into a matter of principle. I put my teacher/priestess hat on and began to educate.

I openly and lovingly explained my stance, empathized with their confusion, and listened to their input. I acknowledged their experiences, offered mine, and even found some common ground. I didn’t shut down, didn’t get defensive, and used my active listening skills to create an environment of collaboration and sharing. I also did not cave and did not move.

When they were as at peace with my decision as it was possible for them to be, and I had at least introduced the foundations of consent, I drove away with a huge smile on my face.

Reclaiming My “No”

The whole experience put so much into perspective for me.

I guess I’d taken it for granted before that an organization offering this sort of emotionally intense training would understand the concept of consent. It absolutely blew my mind that they didn’t. When I brought it up I might as well have been speaking Swahili.

I don’t find that to be acceptable. How is consent not a universally understood concept yet? It’s 2017! I now have a burning desire to fix that, to bring Consent Culture to more mainstream people. I don’t know what that looks like yet, but it’s something I’m actively thinking about.

An arm in a suit passes a flaming torch to another arm in a suit. Caption reads

Some torches need to be passed on.

I’ve been inspired to consider other, similar programs too. We’re all a work in progress, and parts of my experience were helpful. The one I attended doesn’t have a lock on guided self-exploration! Now I’m just looking around for a program based on consent. And you know what? If I can’t find one maybe I’ll make one.

I also take a lot of pride not just in leaving but in how I left. The gentle-yet-firm stance I took is one that felt beautiful and right. It’s also one that’s been difficult for me to reach in the past. I feel like everything snapped into alignment with that event, in that moment, and what would have before been a difficult thing to achieve instead became as natural as breathing.

Interestingly, walking away gave me the transformative event I was looking for. It wasn’t in the way I’d imagined, of course, but I’m learning that detours from my preconceived path are actually ok. That’s new for me too.

Overall I feel like I’ve entered a new zone, a new phase, and I’m really excited about what the new, powerful, secure-in-her-boundaries-and-choices Caer can accomplish this year and beyond. All because I reclaimed the power of my “no”.

Candles for an Uncertain Spring

I am an American.

I am also Polytheist and queer. My queer roommate is here in the US on asylum. My sister, who also lives with me, has a Hispanic last name. Of the two children in our house, one of them is disabled. Two of the above-listed people are trans.

We are 11 days into the Trump presidency, and while I am American I am also scared.

The dawn of this year’s Imbolc illuminates what is for many of us an uncertain spring. It’s challenging, I think, to appreciate the growing light when so much appears so, so dark.

sunrise

Sorry, I couldn’t find a picture as apocalyptic as my Facebook feed.

Maybe it’s just me, but Imbolc feels more poignant than it usually does. I find that I desperately need candles, and torches, and even bonfires to beat back the dark. I need purification and renewal, illumination and inspiration.

So I will take my inspiration from the following and let it define my Imbolc ritual:

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” ~Frank Herbert, Dune

Soon I will take a long cleansing shower, washing away the tension I’ve held since November. I will then go to my altar, and light candles, and invite the Powers to attend.

After that, I will stop compartmentalizing and burying my sorrow and fear. I will instead sit with them, and honor them, and then let them pass away. I will acknowledge that I could have maybe done more, and done better, but I will also recognize that the time for regrets is done now. It’s time to look ahead. Despair and hopelessness are luxuries that we can ill afford. I will do my best to leave them behind in this passing winter as I step into the coming spring refreshed and renewed.

And when I light a candle to honor a new dawn, I will do it with purpose. I will take the energies of this Imbolc and become a candle. I will commit to holding my small, fragile flame against the coming darkness. I will pay attention, and speak out, and help my neighbor as best I can, because only by combining all of our candles together will our light be bright enough to show a better path.

I will do these things. I Will these things. I WILL.

So mote it be.

Hierarchies and Devotions

When people first start establishing a devotional practice they often focus on actions they can take, such as extending hospitality, planning major holidays and festivals, and building altars and shrines.

How we think doesn’t usually rate a second glance until much later.

Here’s the thing, though. The hierarchies we carry around in our heads can completely derail our devotional work before any of those actions are even a blip on the radar. Even once we’ve got something established, those hierarchies can still spring out like a possessed jack-in-the-box and catch us unawares.

censored

I looked for a pic of a jack-in-the-box but creeped myself out. I figured I’d let you imagine your own horrors instead. YOU’RE WELCOME. 🙂

What’s a hierarchy? 

Hierarchies are the systems we use to rank things by status or authority. We rank everything: jobs, physical attractiveness, workplace chain-of-command, preferred handbag brands, etc.

We learn the importance of hierarchies as soon as we learn that our parents have authority over us. As we grow we add on to and refine that initial ranking system until we have an entire series of hierarchies, all nested together in our heads.

And we automatically use them to compare ourselves to other people.

high-school-social-hierarchy

Here’s an example of a high school popularity hierarchy. Did you automatically look for where you’d have ranked on this when you were in high school? I did.

It’s a pretty simple process. We rank a bunch of things from worst to best, or least desirable to most desirable, figure out where we fit in that ranking system, and then use that as a basis for how we feel about ourselves. The higher we are in rank the better we are as people.

Given how much we rely on these hierarchies to navigate our lives, is it really a surprise that we use tend to use them for our spiritual practice, too?

That makes sense. Why is it a problem, though?

For one, it’s dead easy to start ranking the ways different people practice according to some arbitrary scale we make up, compare ourselves to that ranking, and then start drawing conclusions based on whatever we come up with.

In other words, we either think our practice is lacking because someone else out there is doing “better” or we think our practice rocks because someone else out there is doing “worse”. That’s of course a completely ridiculous comparison to make, but people do it anyway.

Lots of people have talked about that particular issue, though. A more serious problem, to my mind, happens when we start comparing ourselves to the Powers.

It’s an easy trap to fall into, too. Once we start thinking of the Powers as individuals with Their own agendas and personalities, it’s really tempting to put Them on a hierarchy just like we do everyone else. Again, it’s just habit. And since They’re always at the top of whatever hierarchy we’re working with, we’re always beneath Them.

Some folks may feel so far beneath Them that they’re too intimidated to interact with Them at all. How can we have a relationship with Them if we can’t even talk?

It’s the exact same thing that happens when we’re attracted to someone at a bar.

girl

Maybe this girl? I dunno, go with me here.

We see someone who pushes all our buttons, who seems like the most amazing person ever. We look at them longingly from across the room. We ask the bartender about them, maybe, or see if our friends know anything about them. We fantasize about saying something hilarious to make them laugh, having a good time, maybe even getting their number.

Then the comparisons start, and our inner monologue runs amuck. “Should I say hi? Naw, they’re outta my league. Who needs that kind of humiliation? I need to find someone attainable.” We psych ourselves out before we make a move and let our internalized feelings of inferiority hold us back.

Or maybe we see a favorite author/musician/celebrity around town and want to gush about how meaningful their work has been in our lives. Once again we fantasize about what interacting with them would be like, once again we compare their place on our internal hierarchy to our own, and once again we psych ourselves out before making a move.

If we’re inhibited by a perceived distance between ourselves and other people, how much more inhibited might we be by a perceived distance between ourselves and the Powers? And how much more likely are we to avoid interacting with Them because of it?

It takes a different form with devotional work, of course, but it’s the same idea. The self-talk sounds similar, too. “I’m a mess right now. I’m sure the Powers are busy and have better things to do than talk to me anyway. If all relationships are reciprocal, what could I possibly bring to the table that would interest Them? I’m just human! I’m not going to ask Them for help. After all, if I was as together as They deserve or expect me to be I wouldn’t even need Their help. I’ll reach out when I’m not so embarrassed. When I’m not so scattered. When I’ve got a better offering for Them. When I’ve studied more. When I’ve accomplished more. When I know what I’m doing. When I’ve sacrificed enough to earn Their attention. When I’m better. When I’m deserving. When I matter.”

It’s a vicious cycle. We feel lesser, we feel intimidated, we avoid interaction. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Avoiding interactions with Them doesn’t exactly help our devotional practice flourish.

So how can we fix that? 

The answer is an easy concept with difficult implementation, but the more we do it the easier it is to keep doing it. Momentum is our friend.

Human hierarchies tend to be based on the things we can easily see and assess (socioeconomic level, appearance, accomplishments, etc). But we have to remember that the Powers aren’t human. Why would They use human-based hierarchies?

The hierarchies on which the Powers rely (at least in my experience) rank traits, or virtues, and judge off of that instead. The harder we try to meet the standards by which They want us to live, the higher the regard in which the Powers hold us. Our effort makes us worthy, not our perfection.

But what exactly do They look for? 

That depends on the Powers you follow. In my experience this is loosely answered on a pantheon basis – for instance, most of the Greek deities tend to value the same set of traits, and the Norse another set – but individual Powers within that pantheon may rank those traits differently.

As usual I’d ask Them first. What do They tell you?

Beyond that, I’d suggest consulting source documents or, if possible, living traditions. Most faiths with written records have some sort of “right actions” guideline to follow, whether it be explicit or inferred. That’s a fantastic place to start sorting things out.

For instance, as someone on a more Celtic path, I do my best to use a hierarchy based on a system of Celtic values (and wow does this need to be a post all on its own!). Wiccans and Wiccan-flavored Pagans often use the Wiccan Rede or Rule of Three the same way. Those on an Asatru-type path might prefer to work with the Nine Noble Virtues, while Egyptian/Kemetic folks might look to the Forty-Two Negative Confessions.

anubis-and-maat

After death, Anubis weighs the heart of the deceased against a single feather of Ma’at, the Egyptian goddess of law and morality. If the heart is the same weight or lighter than the feather, it proves the deceased led a virtuous life and so deserves a reward. If it’s heavier… well, there are consequences for that too.

Outside of all that I can’t think of any Power offhand that doesn’t value Authenticity, Integrity, and Hospitality in some form or fashion. If nothing else start there and see what comes to you.

Make those right actions the basis of your life, and then assess yourself accordingly. Are you keeping your word? Are you working hard to meet your goals? Are you treating yourself, other people, and the Powers with respect? Are you living authentically? That’s where you need to focus your attention. The rest is just noise.

The beauty of this system is that even missteps and mistakes are ok because we show honor by handling them appropriately. Every single choice we make allows us to demonstrate right action, and thus further right relationships with the Powers. They bring us closer together instead of pushing us further away.

Once we’ve sorted this whole issue out we can then engage the Powers from a place of security and strength, making the devotional work we do even more meaningful and effective.

On Apples and Trees: Original Sin and Inherited Debt

A redheaded woman with bare shoulders holding up a bitten apple.

I come from a very fundamentalist family. My aunt and I in particular discuss religion fairly often when we’re together. As a Christian she tries to convert me, and as a Polytheist I reject those attempts, but there is still plenty of discussion outside of that.

During our last conversation we talked about the nature of belief, and faith vs. works, and a whole host of other things. But it’s when the idea of Original Sin came up that I realized I had some processing to do.

Original Sin

This is perhaps the most fundamental problem I’ve had with Christianity as a faith.

The Doctrine of Original Sin holds that the first sin committed – Eve eating apples from the Tree of Knowledge against God’s command – taints every human after her.

eve-apple

For some folks that means we’re all unclean from birth. Others interpret it to mean that we’re all “ethically debilitated”, meaning we’re simply more prone to sin than we would have been if Eve hadn’t fallen from God’s grace. Either way, though, only belief in Jesus can redeem us.

I could never buy that logic as a kid, much less as an adult. Judging someone by the actions of their forefathers made no sense. Sins of the fathers are not passed to the sons. I’m not going to blame someone with the misfortune to be born to a criminal for that criminal’s crimes. Much less a crime that occurred thousands of years ago, in an unverifiable myth, in a way that felt like a setup from the start.

To my mind, ditching Original Sin as a concept meant dismissing Christianity as a whole. After all, if there was no Original Sin to be forgiven, why did we as a people need Jesus in the first place? According to Christian doctrine H/he came to earth and died to forgive us for the Fall, and all the sins stemming from it. That was H/his whole purpose. No Original Sin? No need for Jesus.

I dusted my hands of the whole thing and moved on.

Inherited Debt

Years later, as my Pagan practice grew into something closer to true Polytheism, I encountered the idea of inherited debt and had to reassess some of my previous opinions.

The basic idea of inherited debt is that, due to either actions of our Ancestors or things we did in past lives, we have incurred karmic/spiritual debt that needs to be worked out or paid off. For example, those who abandoned their traditional Gods/Ancestors/Land back in the day bear a debt for those broken oaths, and that debt is passed down through the generations until it is paid by a descendant and the situation is righted.

Even beyond those types of transgressions, though, I didn’t just spontaneously spring from the ooze into an unformed world. My Gods and Ancestors worked hard to bring me here. I stand on the backs of all of those who came before me, who shaped the world I live in, and I owe them for that.

debt

Incalculable.

Thing is, that debt is never paid in full because there’s no way one lifetime is enough to do it. I am indebted deeper than I can ever pay it off. That debt is the price I pay to be a human, to have a corporeal body, to learn the lessons this go-round that I’m supposed to learn.

I began seeing this debt as an extension of Hospitality, because it arises from and is entwined with relationships between myself and the Gods/Ancestors/Land. Once that concept clicked for me I started incorporating the honoring of that debt into my personal practice.

Racial Justice and Privilege

A few years later I dated a woman who was (and still is) very involved in racial justice. It was a new thing for me to think about as a white girl, and even with my college background in gender studies I didn’t really get it. She was approaching it from an academic angle, and that’s not how I learn this kind of thing. I need stories, experiences. I need the people element to connect.

It was on her recommendation that I started following various Facebook feeds, like Son of Baldwin and The Root. I still follow them. I don’t talk, but I listen with intent. It’s not up to POCs to educate me, but their stories are the only way I can learn. So I expose myself to their experiences and perspectives, research what confuses me, and learn as much as I can.

Through all of that I came across two articles that helped.

The first was Explaining White Privilege to a Broke White Person by Gina Crosley-Corcoran. It explained privilege to me in a way that my ex couldn’t. Finally I had some concepts to work with!

As the article explains, “privilege” is a collective term for all the ways I benefit from society by default. I don’t have to do anything to get those benefits, I can openly say I don’t want them, and yet I get them anyway. Those benefits are just as much a part of my heritage as hair and eye color, because I’m benefiting from a system of oppression created and enforced by my Ancestors for generations.

Denial-is-so-White-by-Ampersand

The second article, The Case for Reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates, approaches white privilege from the other direction. These were ideas I had to grapple with, hard, because Coates makes some damned good points in that article. I’m still processing some of them.

The whole thing comes down to this: If I directly benefit from a system of oppression established by my Ancestors that still shapes life in America today, then aren’t those punished under that same system owed some sort of recompense to balance the scales?

This is an inherited debt that’s even more tangible than the others I’ve already mentioned, because it’s about relationships in the here-and-now. This isn’t a spiritual thing I accept on faith or through woo-woo experiences. I can look around me and see the effects of this system on the evening news.

The more I considered it the larger the debt became. I do my best to be a true ally in the fight for racial equality, but it never feels like enough. Everything I do is a drop in a bottomless bucket. I don’t feel guilty about it on a personal level, but I do feel a sense of obligation or responsibility about it. If I get the bennies I bear part of the burden. That only makes sense.

Like the price I pay for being human, this too is an inherited indebtedness that can’t be quantified, grows ever larger, and can never be paid.

Rethinking Original Sin

Interpretations of what the whole story with Eve in the Garden really means are too many to count. There are debates about whether or not there was a Garden at all, or an apple, or a snake. Some people think the apples conferred not knowledge but the desire to be independent, or desire in the sexual sense.

I’m starting to think that Eve’s theft of the apple represents something else entirely. Eve took an apple that God did not want to give her. She forcibly took something from another. She created a debt. And every generation that came after her just added to that debt. Then actions taken by different lineages made that burden even heavier, the debt greater, the obligations harder to meet.

saides_taustakuva2

The story of Eve in the Garden comes to us through Judaism, a faith that ritualizes the meeting of these obligations. The halakhah – Jewish Law, or literally “the path that one walks” – is a set of codified behaviors that reinforce and honor the relationship not just between the individual and God, but between the individual and the entire Jewish community. And yes, there are some of these for Ancestors as well. From what I can tell, their actions essentially make payments on their debts, with the understanding that they are never fully paid. They’ll follow those rituals until they die.

According to Christians, Jesus’s death on the cross ended all those obligations. It put paid to all debts that came before and would come after. All you had to do to have your share of the debt forgiven was believe that Jesus paid it, and as long as you truly believed your slate was clean.

I can certainly see the appeal of that perspective. These burdens are heavy, and meeting these obligations can seem overwhelming. Why not jump at the chance to pass that burden off to another who wants it enough to die for it?

I don’t think I buy it though. With this interpretation my disbelief is shifting away from the whole concept of Original Sin and towards the ease of forgiveness of it. I think there’s more to it than that, and Gods know my approach is more similar to the Jewish one than the Christian one.

Honestly I don’t even know what I’m saying anymore, or if this whole train of thought is even valid, or where to go from here. I don’t have all the pieces to the puzzle yet, so I’m not sure what the picture will look like when it’s all together.

I think that all I can do is study, and listen, and try to understand. Hopefully I’ll accumulate some knowledge on my own, without needing to steal an apple from a tree in a garden. But just in case… where’s a helpful snake when you need one?

Concepts of Modern Polytheism – Piety

Piety is an incredibly contentious idea. It’s an important topic, and I’m glad people are discussing it, but sometimes the discussions can seem frustratingly theoretical.

For those new to the concept, or new to considering how piety might manifest in day-to-day life, I thought I’d wade into these turbulent waters and toss my two cents in. As per usual this is by no means meant to be a definitive anything. It’s simply my breakdown of the subject.

Disclaimers out of the way? Awesome.

blues-brothers-hit-it-quote-scene

The Blues Brothers. Still classic.

What is piety, anyway?

The basic definition of piety is “reverence for God or devout fulfillment of religious obligations”.

Leaving the monotheistic bias of the definition aside, on the surface this seems simple enough. Applying it is a whole different thing, though.

That’s ok. This definition is a decent enough place to start. We just need to unpack it a bit.

There are three aspects to this definition we need to wrangle if we’re going to clear up some of the confusion around this whole “piety” thing: reverence, religious obligations, and devout fulfillment.

Reverence

Reverence is “a feeling or attitude of deep respect tinged with awe”, in this case towards the Powers. And really, if we don’t respect the Powers and feel at least a little in awe of Them, then why the hell are we all here?

Reverence is the feeling that makes us talk quietly or whisper in sacred places. It’s why simply lighting a candle on an altar can feel like a deeply significant, if not overwhelming, thing to do. Reverence causes us to dither over what we’re going to wear to a solitary ritual and spend hours writing out exactly what we’re going to say when we pray. It pushes us to make our shrines beautiful and the incense sweet.

Experiencing reverence, or wanting to, is what draws many of us to religion in the first place. That makes it a very big deal.

That being said, though, telling someone to “feel reverence” is like telling someone to “fall in love”. We can talk about it until we’re blue in the face, but until someone feels it for themselves they’re simply not going to get it.

So, just like with discussions of love, when we talk about reverence we most often talk about how it’s shown.

And that brings us to religious obligations.

Religious Obligations

Showing our reverence involves a bunch of different actions we collectively call “religious obligations”. The exact activities can differ from person to person, Power to Power, and/or Tradition to Tradition, but all together these things form the core of our religious practice.

And while the activities may differ, they all serve the same general functions.

For those who don’t feel reverence yet, Doing the Things will help create a frame of reference for it. It’s like helping someone appreciate roses by teaching them how to garden. It may seem a bit convoluted, but it can be very effective.

roses

For roses to bloom in the spring we have to prune the bushes in the fall. Here’s how we do that…

Once we do feel reverence, Doing the Things helps us express the reverence we feel.

Think about that overwhelming awkwardness we all occasionally suffer through when talking to a crush, or someone we perceive to be of higher status than ourselves. Sure, we’re all suave and together when we imagine those conversations in our heads, but when the moment actually comes we’re more likely to stammer and blush than sound like James Bond.

Crush

Seriously, who can’t relate to this?

That awkwardness can happen when working with the Powers, too. We might not know what to say, or what to do with our hands. Do we talk or stay silent? Kneel, or curtsy, or bow, or stand tall? Do we wear clothes at our altars, or do we approach them naked?

Our religious obligations, whatever they may be, make interactions with the Powers easier to navigate. They help us avoid feeling awkward by providing us with at least a baseline for acceptable behavior. And the more comfortable we are with the actions we’re taking, the more we can focus on the interaction itself, instead of all the other questions that can confuse or block the experience.

That’s just the surface, though. It goes deeper. Expressing our reverence by Doing the Things actually leads to us feeling more reverence. It’s a classic feedback loop.

Feedback Loop

How cool is that?

As wonderful as all that is, though, we can’t talk about religious obligations without acknowledging that these Things We Do are obligations. “Obligation” is another word for “requirement”. Doing the Things is something the Powers require from us.

It’s not just for our benefit, either. Like damn near everything else in polytheism, reciprocity is at work here too. Which means They get just as much out of these activities as we do. What that value might be is up for debate, but the value itself is definitely there.

By fulfilling these obligations we’re not just improving things on our end, but Theirs too. It’s doubly important to fulfill these obligations because it’s for E/everyone involved.

How we go about doing that brings us to the next point.

Devout Fulfillment

This idea is present in every religion I can think of, and modern polytheism is no exception. No matter what our religious obligations happen to be, we should do them with sincerity and focus. We have to be fully engaged in what we’re doing, and committed to doing it the best way we know how.

This can hit a number of different points.

  • Do it for the Powers. Don’t do it because you think it’ll make you look good to other people, or even other polytheists. It’s not about them, and they’re not your intended audience. If they are you’re going about this for completely the wrong reasons.
  • Do it with joy. Or at least satisfaction. Don’t just suffer through. There are times we feel a little less engaged than others, but if you feel like a put-upon martyr every time you approach your altar you might want to reassess things.
  • Focus not just on what you’re doing but on the meaning behind it. Don’t let yourself be rushed or distracted. I’m sure I’ll get people who disagree with me here, but I think it’s better to postpone your religious activities entirely if the only other option is half-assing them. Don’t make it a habit or anything, but life happens. We have to be able to roll with that, and short-changing your religious activities isn’t helpful.

I could keep going here, but I’m sure y’all get the point. Do what you mean, and mean what you do. It really is just that simple.

Putting it Back Together

Now that we’ve dismantled the definition of “piety”, let’s reassemble it more clearly.

How about this? “Fulfilling our religious obligations with focus and intent expresses the respect we feel for the Powers, leads to greater connection with Them, and serves Them too.”

I personally find that definition to be much better!

There is one very important question this definition leaves hanging, though: What specifically are these activities we’re supposed to practice, these religious obligations we’re supposed to so devotedly fulfill?

Approaches to Piety

Answering that question involves quite a bit of trial-and-error. And while I sincerely believe there are no universally correct answers here, I’ve found three useful approaches that can help us figure out our personal answers: community-based learning, relying on our existing connections with the Powers to guide us, and/or consulting the historical record.

Community-Based Learning

The community-based learning approach focuses on the perspectives and experiences of other modern polytheists. Information can come from in-person conversations and instruction, blogs like this one, forums and websites, and books written by other polytheists for other polytheists.

On the one hand these resources can be incredibly helpful. They can certainly jump-start our practice! Consulting others who have already figured out their approach gets tools that work into our hands faster, allowing us to avoid all kinds of frustration and hassles as we start finding our own way.

Zelda

Even if swords aren’t the first tools most of us need.

Notice I said “their approach” and “finding our own way”. The biggest problem with community-based learning happens when people confuse learning from others with essentially cheating off their test.

When we’re lost in math class we get to a point when we just want to get the answers, right? We cease caring about why the answers are the answers, we just want to get credit and move on. Hopefully to something that makes a bit more sense.

That happens with polytheism just as much as anything else, especially when we’re just getting started. It’s fairly easy to do, too, thanks to the internet. We simply find another polytheist who seems pretty connected to the Powers and take their path as our own – or, even worse, as the only valid path there is. There’s no true understanding of what we’re doing or why, no meaning behind it we can see, just rote gestures we make with the vague hope that if we do them long enough some ephemeral something will happen.

cheating

Like this, but with more candles and incense.

And that right there is the problem.

What we’re rotely copying when we do this are what the polytheist in question considers their religious obligations, right? Their obligations to the Powers with whom they work. And those obligations are both their frame of reference for and an expression of the reverence they feel for those Powers.

That being the case, copying their obligations without understanding is an attempt to copy their reverence. And reverence can’t be copied. It’s a feeling. Copying techniques might help in the short term, by giving us some place to start, but eventually rote copying becomes both ineffective and inauthentic.

As long as we keep things to learning instead of copying, though, community-based learning can be incredibly helpful to us as we go.

Relying on Existing Connections

When we talk about forming/deepening connections with the Powers, one thing that really stands out about polytheism in particular is that we interact with Them. We talk to the Powers and fully expect Them to respond.

For many of us, what we hear directly from the Powers is the be-all and end-all of our devotional work. We figure that if They want us to do something in particular, or step it up in general, then They’ll just tell us. We assume that if They’re not complaining then everything’s ok.

That’s a seductive viewpoint, no question. But there are some problems with it.

For one, our signal clarity might simply suck. There’s no shame in that. It happens to all of us occasionally, and if we’re new to this we might still be working on establishing a signal at all. There are lots of reasons we might not hear Them when They speak to us, and that means we could easily miss important things.

low-signal-mobile-phone-020615

Frustrating on BOTH ends of the line!

Even if our signal clarity is at five bars, our personal bullshit can still clog up the works. We all have prejudices, biases, distractions, egos, conflicting priorities, and bouts of sheer laziness. Filtering the messages we receive through all that noise might lead to us either hearing only what we want to, or closing out Their voices until it’s convenient for us to listen. That is less than optimal at the best of times, but especially if They’re our only source for information!

This whole approach can also be a bit insulting to Them. If They have to complain to get what They need from us, and have to keep complaining to get us to pay attention, eventually They’ll get tired of it. They’ll feel disregarded and disrespected.

We don’t want our friends to feel that way, do we? So why should that be ok for the Powers? It’s not. Unhealthy relationship habits are unhealthy relationship habits, regardless of the relationship in question.

Keeping our relationships with Them healthy and balanced involves truly reciprocating with Them. We need to try to meet Them halfway. As long as we do that, relying on the Powers to guide us can be a really useful approach.

Consulting the Historical Record

The third and last approach to piety is looking at what other people did before us. All of the Powers with which we engage came from somewhere, right? And we’re certainly not the first people to interact with Them! Checking out what might have been written about Them back when honoring Them was commonplace seems like a no-brainer.

Like the other methods, though, this approach has some pros and cons.

On the plus side, if we’re lucky enough to work with a culture that kept written records, or a Power that came from one, then YAY! That’s a huge head start. Those records can tell us not only what a particular Power considered religious obligations back in the day, but how They expected those obligations to be fulfilled.

PWI95057

The Weighing of the Heart, a detail from a page of the Egyptian Book of the Dead. The Book of the Dead is basically a guide to the Egyptian afterlife that was left in tombs, and gives LOTS of info about the Egyptian Powers.

Archaeology can be quite informative even when there aren’t written records. Comparisons to other cultures from the same general area and time period can be illuminating as well. The more fragmentary the records the harder we have to work to get anything useful out of them, but anything is better than nothing. Right?

Eh. I might be in the minority, but I tend to find that written sources can easily become more hindrance than help. Especially for those of us raised in the shadow of Modernity.

Modernity places a high value on that which is written, and considers the written word inviolate and unquestionable. Considering where Modernity comes from that’s pretty understandable. By the time we’re adults it’s almost instinctive for us to look to books to answer all of our questions. And why would we ever question what we find there? It’s in a book!

Modern polytheists don’t escape that inherent bias. When we start reaching out to the Powers and wanting to understand Them better, we reach for books without even really thinking about it. It’s just what we do. And once we’ve got “official documentation” in hand it’s all too easy for those of us looking at it to rely on it exclusively, without question and without accepting the possibility of change.

We start treating the lore, or scholarly interpretations of it, as if it is in itself sacred.

In America today it’s fairly common to see folks go all One True Way with whatever written material they’ve chosen to base their lives on. We see it with evangelical Christians who do it with the Bible, but it pops up in politics too. The Constitution is so revered (notice the word usage there?) that for some folks questioning it or changing it becomes absolutely unthinkable.

amendment

Substitute “gun control” with “health care”, “immigration reform”, “gay marriage”…

One True Wayism isn’t a good thing regardless of who’s doing it. I think it’s particularly sad when polytheists do it, though, because that often runs counter to the traditions we’re trying to revive.

Polytheistic traditions that predate Modernity didn’t rely on books. Many of them didn’t keep records at all. These were living traditions, and a large part of what gave them life was the fact that they were orally transmitted. That kept them flexible, enabling both the lore and the people to adapt to changing times and circumstances.

Even the cultures that did write things down didn’t write down everything. Why would they? We’re not finding children’s religious primers in the archaeological record. For the most part the writings that have survived reflect one person’s observations about whatever topic they were writing about at the time of the writing. They’re snapshots, each one a single frame taken from a movie reel, one perspective of one moment of time frozen in words.

swdel-scene-yoda-training

If this one frame was the only one you saw from the whole Star Wars trilogy, how much would you know about the rest of the saga?

We can’t base our entire understanding of a Power or culture solely on what remains in the historical record. The more records we’ve got the more clear our understanding can be, but there is always a margin for error. As long as that margin of error is accounted for all is well. However, it’s way too easy for us to forget about that.

Balancing Approaches

There are significant problems with all of the above approaches when it comes to figuring out the religious obligations of a pious life. So what do we do?

We synthesize them. We don’t rely exclusively on one approach, we do them all together.

By all means, follow the blogs and social media of polytheists you think are “doing it right” or have an approach that speaks to you. Read all the books written by other polytheists you can find. Their voices and perspectives can teach you a lot. But remember that no one is The One and Only Voice of the Powers, so don’t blindly follow anyone as if they are. And occasionally remember to pop in and check out what people you don’t agree with have to say too. Questioning what they say helps us remember to question what we say.

Yes, talk to the Powers. Converse with Them. Interact with Them. If you hear Them speak to you, heed what They say. Use divination techniques to clarify what that might be when you’re unsure. But remember to practice self-awareness to make sure your own voice isn’t overriding Theirs. Always question what you think you heard.

Certainly look to the historical record for inspiration and guidance. Visit the sacred sites and learn about the culture. Study the lore. But remember that the records don’t tell the whole story and aren’t always reliable. Also remember that most of these cultures are gone, the world has changed, and had they survived those cultures would have had to change with it.

The key to remember with all of these approaches, I think, is to always question what we think we know and stay open to change. Those two things will assure we’re living an authentically pious life more than anything else.

A Starter Guide

Any approach to piety has to start somewhere.

ring

Drowning? This section is for you.

I’ve collected some links to things I personally think are useful to people trying to figure out their own approach to piety in a modern polytheistic practice. This kind of thing is never complete, though, and if you have sources you’d like to add please mention them in the comments!

Beginning Polytheism

There really isn’t a whole lot out there for brand-new beginners. Most resources seem to assume at least a little background information, which to my mind makes assumptions that might not be true. There are some that manage to avoid that, though. Here’s what I recommend.

Not All Who Wander Are Lost

I guess first I’ll mention my own writing. Out of everything I’ve written I’d most recommend starting with The Southern Girl’s Guide to Hospitality, and from there progressing through the Growing Devotions series. Together these provide a decent starting place when it comes to establishing an effective religious practice. They’re also simple, use references we know, and are careful not to overwhelm the beginner with too much at once.

Dealing with Deities: Practical Polytheistic Theology by Raven Kaldera

I tend to enjoy Kaldera’s tone and approach, and this book is no exception. At 135 pages it’s short, but honestly I think beginner books should be short. We need a chance to absorb what we’ve read before moving on to longer or more challenging material, and I think this book does that well. It gives us a good idea of what’s going on without getting overly technical. Available here.

Devotional Polytheism: An Introduction by Galina Krasskova

This is another great intro. I think my only quibble with it is that it’s 200 pages long, and those pages are dense. There’s a lot here, and that might feel a little overwhelming. If you just take it slow, and go into it with the idea that this book is full of ideas rather than mandates, I think you’ll find it very useful. Available here.

A World Full of Gods: An Inquiry into Polytheism by John Michael Greer

This book is written from a “polytheism is a part of Paganism” perspective, which I don’t agree with (and should probably explain in a later post too). That aside, though, it’s useful for beginners who want a more idea-based approach to polytheism. Instead of going into how to be a polytheist, it examines some of the ideas and themes that support it. This might be especially useful to those transitioning from soft polytheism to hard polytheism. Available here.

Intermediate Books

Once you’ve gone through the above resources you’ll have enough background to easily understand the following. They assume you know what polytheism is and some of the basic ideas, but they don’t assume too much past that.

Walking with the Gods: Modern People Talk About Deities, Faith, and Recreating Ancient Traditions by W.D. Wilkerson

In many ways this feels like a polytheist’s version of Margot Alder’s Drawing Down the Moon. It is more academic than other books on this list, but that’s because this book is an academic study. The author interviewed 120 different modern polytheists, from all types of practice, and drew out the similarities and differences in what they said. If you want to explore some of the many paths within modern polytheism I highly recommend this book. Available here.

Weaving Memory: A Guide to Honoring the Ancestors by Laura Patsouris

There’s plenty out there about working with Gods, but not a whole lot specifically addressing how to work with other Powers. This one focuses on Ancestors and is the book I started with on the subject. It was written with the beginner in mind, or at least the beginner to Ancestor work, but personally I’d recommend it for those who know basic polytheism fundamentals already. There’s a lot of information in this one! Available here.

The Tradition of Household Spirits: Ancestral Lore and Practices by Claude Lecouteux

This book talks about Land Spirits, specifically those around hearth and home. I personally loved it, but it’s got a more academic tone so be warned. It wasn’t a difficult read, but it does require you to pay attention or you’ll lose some of the threads the author is working with. This is another book I’d recommend tackling once you’ve got a good grasp of general polytheism. Not so much because you need it to understand the material, but so that you’ve got an existing framework in which to place it and with which to use it. Available here.

For more about working directly with Gods I’d recommend any of the devotionals published by Bibliotheca Alexandrina. I’ve consistently found them to be both useful and beautiful, and recommend them highly. These all focus on either one God or a small group of Gods and offer stories, prayers, devotional activities, and essays to help you understand and work with Them. Asphodel Press offers some beautiful devotionals as well, and their offerings tend to skew towards Norse deities if that’s what draws your interest.

There are also a metric ton of blogs out there with different perspectives and types of practice. Once you feel comfortable exploring they can be incredibly useful too.

Concepts of Modern Polytheism – Post Round Up

The “Concepts of Modern Polytheism” series is dedicated to making complex ideas more accessible to those unfamiliar with them. While the series is new, breaking down complexity is something I’ve focused on for awhile now.

That being so, I thought it might be helpful to provide links to previous posts that do that too. If nothing else it gets all the relevant posts corralled into one place.

The first two links especially are ones I reference quite a bit. Completely new to the whole idea of polytheism? Hospitality and Devotions are an excellent place to start!

A Southern Girl’s Guide to Hospitality

Hospitality is a foundational concept in modern polytheism. However, people talking about it may assume a base level of knowledge that simply isn’t there. Not all of us grew up with a model of Hospitality we can follow, after all, and those who did might not know how to apply the core ideas to working with the Powers. Here’s a quick guide to help you get started. (Note: This post uses the term “Kindred” in the place of “Power”. I’ve since stopped doing that.)

Growing Devotions

Once we understand Hospitality we can use it to develop a regular devotional practice. This six-part series covers the idea of devotions, the reasons they’re a good idea, introduces the three main types of Powers with which we engage, discusses different ways of engaging with Them, and goes into the need for discernment.

Six Rules for Safer Pagan Sex: A Guide

Most of us grew up with the idea that sexual repression was virtuous and morally superior to sexual permissiveness. Coming into the more sex-positive Pagan and polytheist communities can leave people foundering, unsure of how to navigate these new situations. This post tackles that, with a focus on consent and enforcing personal boundaries.

Fleur De Lis – A Symbol of Sexual Boundaries

Six Rules for Safer Pagan Sex talks about enforcing our personal boundaries in community settings. But what if we don’t know what those personal boundaries are? Establishing them for ourselves can be challenging, especially if we’ve been relying on rules provided to us by other people or systems. This post provides a framework to help us figure all of that out for ourselves, and can be applied in a wide variety of situations.

The Roles Filled by Clergy, Explained

What is clergy, really? What do they actually do? And, especially, how do those roles manifest in groups? Here’s my breakdown.

Envelopes, Labels, and Gods

There are a lot of different Powers out there. Sometimes, to make that number easier to deal with, Powers are lumped together into different categories. This post talks about why that can be a bad idea, with a focus on Archetypes.

I hope you find these posts helpful!