All posts by riverdevora

The Revolutionary Art of Hearth-Keeping

hearth fire

We are living in terrible times. Every passing day brings more violent racist, homophobic, transphobic, anti-Semitic, xenophobic and classist attacks and incidents at every level of society, from local street violence to “Alt-Right” rallies to State and Federal governmental attempts to (and occasional successes in) passing oppressive legislation to the stripping away of protections for vulnerable communities. The regime we are currently living under is one that attempts to strip us of both individual and group identity, shames us for interdependence, and seeks to destroy our connection to ancestors and descendants, and to the land upon which we live (as complex as these relationships can be). The dominant paradigm is one that endorses survival of the most privileged, at the expense of nondominant communities and vulnerable people. And we are handed the lie that we can rise above the oppression of our people by disavowing ourselves of our cultures, that by leaving behind our community identities, ancestors, and folk ways we can have a shot at achieving privilege through individuated assimilation. But without the support, direction, and accountability of our communities and cultural identities, we have no center, we have no soul. That fire that burns in the center of collective identity and lineage and culture is the mythic hearth, and those who protect, embody, and maintain that center for the community are our hearth-keepers.

Hearth-keeping is the heart of my spiritual practice. It is part of my priest dedication to the Matronae, and a major part of my oaths to and daily practices with the goddess Hreda. Hearth-keeping is the foundation of how I perform my duties as clergy and community leader as well, because of the essential role hearth plays in community. My personal communities include a large number of folks who identify as warriors, people who have committed to protecting our communities and who fight for a more inclusive, accessible, egalitarian, and safe world for our community members. Due in part to the number of warrior-oriented folks in my personal circles, I’ve witnessed and participated in fantastic and empowering discussions of how to make warriorship and warrior status accessible to folks of all genders and how to recognize different ways of standing in warriorship, and  I have seen ongoing dialogue around the true nature of warriorship and warrior deities. I love that the Morrigan and other female warrior deities have gotten so much deserved love and attention in the broader Polytheist community as well, and the Morrigan herself is a deity to whom I carry a deep and personal oath. And yet I continue to notice that, even as the ideals of warriorship and warrior status have come a long way in breaking gender and other barriers, deities and practices related to the tending of hearth and home, community building and caretaking, and those who perform these functions continue to be ignored, disrespected, and taken for granted. Which is a shame, because the magic, the love, the wisdom, and all the precious resources that I understand as being under the domain of the hearth, hearth-keepers, and hearth deities are required for the maintenance of individual, community, and ancestral identity and connection. We simply wouldn’t have a sense of identity or belonging without the essential work of hearth-keepers, the essential mysteries of the hearth itself, and the love and oversight of those deities whose central mysteries are the hearth.

In order to understand hearth deities, we need to first look to the nature of the hearth, the nature of the home, and the hearth fire itself.  The Home, as an idealized or mythic concept, is where you find the heart and soul and center of a family, a lineage, a tribe, a tradition. The individual family or personal hearth is the heart of the home, and the collective, mythic hearth of a community is the heart of a people. Many different types of homes are and were organized around a central fire.  The fire pit or fireplace or stove contains the fire, and the heat and light and safety offered by that contained fire are held within the walls of the home. The presence of safely contained fire means the home can provide a warm safe place to sleep; a central place for family or community members to gather; a place to store, consume, and share food; a bounded and protected space to take care of your individual, family, and community needs; a place to heal, relax, replenish, regroup and rejuvenate. A home can provide us a place to store our valuables, whether those valuables are sentimentally valuable or economically valuable or both. Home used to be (and still is in many places) the place where people primarily conceived and birthed babies, took care of the injured, tended the sick and dying, and prepared bodies for funerary rites.

During times of chosen or forced displacement due to traveling, invasion, colonization, governmental policies, natural disasters, or other reasons why individuals or groups may find themselves needing to move, or for those communities and tribes that are nomadic, it is the traveling campfire that provides many of the same essential functions as the hearth fire found inside the home: it is the same fire, just found in a temporary dwelling or outside rather than contained within a permanent structure. That same fire still holds the central heart of the family, tribe or community. Even if we lose or are driven out of our physical homes, we can light a fire and our people can gather around it for warmth, food, kinship and safety. As my wise friend Jackie says, as long as we have a fire around which we can gather (or even the idea of a fire), we are still a people with a shared identity and a place to gather together. We can still rest into a sense of home and belonging, even if it is temporary, even if we are physically alone. We can light this fire anywhere in the world, however far away from our home and community, and know that this fire is the Hearth fire, the same fire that warms our people. We can warm ourselves by this fire no matter where we are.

Those who tend the hearth fire (literally or metaphorically) are the ones who make sure the community has a maintained identity and take care of the continuity of the tribe. Hearth-keepers feed their families, light and maintain the fires, and keep the house itself clean, stocked with supplies, and in good repair. The hearth-keepers are the ones who take care of the physical and emotional needs of the family and tribe, remember the old stories and the old ways, hold the community knowledge and wisdom, and teach those stories and lessons. The hearth-keepers tend to the injured and the sick, maintain the boundaries of the home, and permit or deny access to visitors and outsiders.

Hearth mysteries are the heart of hospitality, and hearth-keepers are the ones responsible for setting, maintaining, and enforcing both guesting and hosting rules. For what is hospitality than the extension of temporary hearth benefits to visitors? The work of the hearth-keepers is often unglamorous, unpopular, taken for granted, looked down on as being less important, and therefore so are the hearth-keepers themselves. It is often but not always women, folks assigned female, and those who take on historically female-categorized roles that hold the job of hearth-keeper, and this disrespect is entirely entangled in and upheld by patriarchy. It is often poor people of color who do many of the jobs needed for the maintenance of the home and family, working unpaid for their own families and communities as well as providing low-waged domestic labor for more privileged or affluent folks in the form of house cleaning, cooking, home and yard maintenance childcare and other domestic labor. And in the US historically a portion of hearth maintenance in wealthy homes was done by enslaved people of color. While slavery in the US was officially abolished in 1865 (only a little over 150 years ago), the legacy of slavery remains in both the racial breakdown of domestic laborers, and in the disrespect shown to those workers and to the work itself. The disrespect of hearth keeping and hearth maintenance is also entangled in and upheld by white supremacy.

Hearth-keepers maintain the identity of the family, tribe, and culture. They remember the stories, they teach children and new community members about the rules and structures and community norms and culture. They remember the songs and the dances of the community and when those songs and dances should be performed.  They monitor food and food preparation, remembering the dietary needs of the family. They remember both the holiday and the daily recipes, the flow and progression of how to serve a meal, how to set a table, and who sits where – historically, this was a subtle but important way hearth-keepers shaped and reinforced social hierarchy. They enact, enforce enactment of, and teach others how to enact the culture, and in doing so they preserve and maintain living cultural identity.

Hearth-keepers maintain lineage. They honor and remember the wisdom and cultural ways of the ancestors and they pass that wisdom on to the descendants so that the line continues. They birth babies or welcome and integrate (and sometimes initiate) new community members, and they tend the dead. They pray for those who have passed so the dead can elevate to being organized ancestors, strong and unified and present with the community, guiding their descendants. Hearth-keepers stand at the nexus between past and future; they are the crossroads where ancestors and descendants meet, and they are the heart of living lineage.

Hearth-keepers hold space for initiation mysteries, so an initiate has a stable place from which to fare forth and a warm and welcoming place in which to return. The hearth provides a place to step into post-initiation responsibilities, and a place to be held accountable in a new status and roles. Initiation requires a destruction and rebirth of self; a hearth helps provide a reason to move through the pain of initiation and provides a soft place to land, be cared for, celebrated, and recognized afterwards. Initiation may be required to step into certain types of community level responsibilities and roles. And initiation is required in certain specific communities or traditions in order to be recognized as a member of that group and be counted among the lineage. Sometimes it is the hearth-keepers themselves who are the initiators, and hearth-keepers take care of both initiators and initiates through the process of initiation. If the hearth is the heart of a shared sense of identity, initiation in many cases is the way into that heart.

Hearth-keepers are revolutionary. Hearth-keepers create and maintain community, including for those of us who may have been barred or expelled from more mainstream communities or from our own families of origin. Hearth-keepers weave together and lovingly maintain identity, around all manner of axes. There are mythic (and sometimes literal) hearths at the heart of queer communities, punk communities, pagan and polytheist communities, and all manner of communities of fringe and outcast folks – wherever there is a strong and maintained felt sense of shared identity and belonging, there is a hearth. And hearth-keepers are at the front lines of keeping our people alive. Hearth-keepers check in on friends going through rough times, provide crash space for at-risk community members, organize fundraisers for needed services, and do the emotional labor of a community. Hearth-keepers provide physical, emotional, and spiritual healing for the wounds of living in a world that isn’t always safe for “our kind of folks.” Hearth-keepers keep our loved ones from losing hope; hearth-keepers hold hope for our communities. In pooling resources and holding hope, we keep one another alive.

Without a hearth, there would be no tribal, community, or cultural identity; there would be no group identity around which to rally, nothing for warriors to defend, nothing for seekers to join. Ancestors themselves, songs and stories, and all manner of cultural ways and wisdom are forgotten, and descendants have no lineage from which to learn and find support and guidance. Without a hearth and hearth-keepers to maintain it, descendants have nothing to be descended from. The old ways are forgotten, knowledge is lost. There is no tribe, no culture, no group: what is a cultural or tribal identity but the collective wisdom of a people over generations, and the deep felt-sense certainty that you are part of that collective that extends backwards and forwards across time?

What differentiates a warrior from a mercenary, a sociopath, or a dictator is that the warrior is accountable, that a warrior is fighting for some greater good or greater ideal and protecting that which they value at the community level. But who determines what those ideals should be?  How do you decide what is worth fighting for? Who are you accountable to? Do you answer to a god? To a community? To your own conscience? Who acts as your checks and balances? Who do you come home to after the fight? Who tends to your wounds? Who will remember you if you fall, sing your soul to the ancestors, tell your stories to your descendants? Who benefits from your fighting, and who will celebrate with you when you win?

Warriors are accountable to their hearths. When your answer to the above questions is, “I only answer to myself,” you are simply a person who likes fighting. You are not a warrior. If your answer is, “I know Truth and I am prepared to uphold it,” in the absence of community accountability, this belief can be used to justify dictatorial decision-making and enforcing your will over the will of others. There is incredible hubris and real danger in not having anyone you need to answer to, in thinking you are smarter and wiser and simply “right,” and I would argue that many of the problems we find in modern Western society rise from a belief that each of us shouldn’t have to be accountable to anyone and that we somehow know better than others. This core belief fuels patriarchal, Enlightenment-based Western thinking, and justifies colonization and the disrespect and destruction of other people’s cultural ways.

Simply being accountable to other warriors isn’t necessarily any better either, as a warrior mindset is by necessity a very specific thing and warriors may have a very different perspective than non-combatants around what they think is right and necessary. The skills and perspectives that allow for survival and good decision-making on the battlefield are often neither appropriate nor healthy in civilian society. History has shown us many examples of rule by might, and it doesn’t tend to end well for anyone..

Sometimes the answer to the above questions, if we’re to be honest about it, is, “I haven’t really thought too hard about these questions.” And usually that’s because you assume someone will take care of you, someone will benefit from your fighting, someone will help you relax when you come home from war, someone will hold your center for you while you’re fighting. That someone is probably related to your literal or mythic hearth in some way or another. It may not be a single person, it may be a community or even a concept. But these are all questions for which warriors should have answers.

In order for a warrior to do what needs doing in times of war, a warrior needs to be able to temporarily suspend the usual rules of civil society. The rules that govern fighting are very different than the rules that govern being a civilian, being in the home as member or family or guest. In older societies there were rituals to strip a warrior of their civilian status and the rules that bound them to peace-time society, and rituals to reinstate those rules, boundaries and structures when they returned home from war. Do our modern warriors, folks who have chosen that status, hold to that? Part of the job of the hearth-keepers is to prepare warriors for war, help them transition out of the structures of society, and help them transition back when they return home. Historically the hearth helped to determine whether or not someone needed to go forth and fight, as well. The warriors protected the home and tribe from enemy invasion, or went out to procure needed resources for the home and tribe. The hearth-keepers could also decide not to permit a warrior to come home, to close the doors and forbid entrance if a warrior acted against the well-being of the hearth or behaved in a way that brought shame to the tribe. A warrior is beholden to their hearth, and needs to answer to their people.

The hearth, the mythic fire at the center of the home and tribe is what burns in the heart of a warrior. The hearth is what the warrior fights for, what keeps the warrior fighting. We fight for our land, for our people, for our way of life. This is the core of hearth mysteries. The hearth holds the center, so when we have to leave home we have somewhere to return, the certainty that someone will remember us, will take care of us when we return, welcome us home.

Sometimes the hearth-keeper is a single person. Far more often many of us share those responsibilities, including those who may sometimes also hold warrior and other community functions as needed. The memory of home, family, tribe, and community is what drives a warrior to fight, and is what provides the resilience needed to survive a fight. It is the spirit of hearth fire lit in our own heart that warms us through hard times, when we can’t be home, when we’re far from our tribes, our families and communities, when we have work to do. Often it is assumed the hearth-keepers will be female, as many of the responsibilities of maintaining a home have historically been assigned to women, but hearth mysteries are not gendered and folks of any gender can and do hold hearth functions. As long as there are folks to maintain the ways of a people, to care for children and newcomers, to care for community members in need, to remember the ancestors and guide the descendants, there are hearth-keepers. As long as the hearth fire is lit in our hearts, as long as we remember who we are, we cannot be conquered.

The guiding spirit of home, of place, of family and tribe and community, the protector and unifying force of a people, is the tutelary deity. It is she is who sends her warriors off to war and opens her arms to welcome them home again. She is the heart of a people. She holds the lineage itself, nurturing, shaping and protecting the line. She is the personification of the culture, the banner of identity and belonging under which folks gather.  Sometimes we call her by a name, sometimes we don’t know her name. Often we don’t know she’s a deity, and often we disrespect and ignore her, take her for granted, assume she’ll be there keeping the hearth fires burning while we go out and win fame and glory. Tutelary deities are those deities who provide a central heart around which to shape a community identity, and it is the hearth-keepers who tend her deepest mysteries. She stretches her wings across a people and says These people are my people, they belong to me and they belong to one another. She receives their dead, she guides the souls of those waiting to be born towards waiting wombs, she guides seekers looking for a home to the community to be embraced and integrated there.

Tutelary deities live in the heart of the hearth fire. Often we assume her to be soft and mothering, like our own stories of the fantasy mother, and like many actual mothers, she is often undervalued and unnoticed. She is the spirit that inspires those who cook our food, her radiance warms our homes, we gather in her living room and don’t bother to notice the work she’s done to make the place comfortable and inviting. But never forget that a hearth fire is still fire, a hearth deity is still a fire deity. And fire is what it is; inherently volatile and dangerous when ignored, taken for granted, or left untended. Hearth fire is fire that has chosen to allow herself to sit peacefully inside a bit of brick or rocks inside your home, but don’t ever forget that she is, at her core essence, still fire. When the fire goes out, we best figure out how to re-light it or we lose the safety, security, stability, and comfort of home. We risk losing our sense of shared identity, forgetting who we are, forgetting who we are accountable to, forgetting our folk ways and wisdom. When fire jumps the hearth, the whole town burns down.  Modern homes are no exception; our hearth fires now are often electric or gas ovens, heating systems, the electricity that powers our homes, the light switches we can turn on or off, and all the rest of our modern appliances, wiring, plumbing, and clever bits of architecture. But the essence hasn’t changed. We take our hearths and our tutelary deities for granted at our peril.

I am so very glad so many folks are finding the empowerment to step into warrior identities, especially those to whom that job was historically barred. We are living in terrible times, and we need our warriors. But we also need our warriors to be accountable to their people, their families and tribes and communities, in all the ways we’ve renegotiated and reimagined those webs of consensual and (hopefully) enthusiastically chosen connections to others. Family, tribe, community, culture, we get to decide who we want to be intimately networked with and what descriptive words we’ll use to encapsulate that web of love and connection. But who maintains the norms, rules, and ways of that group? Who remembers the songs, the order of things, the rituals? Who passes that culture along, and to whom is it passed? How is the soul of our family/tribe/community protected and maintained and enacted and embodied by us who are the members?  It is the warriors who defend this, but it is the hearth-keepers who preserve, hold, nurture, and teach. And that work is hard and constant work, and is worthy of respect too.  Warriors will help us tear broken systems down and will protect us from those who would destroy our homes and lives and ways of being in the world; it is the hearth-keepers that are responsible for maintaining and creating the societies and homes and communities we actually want to live in, who will set and maintain and enforce and teach those ways of being.  Hearth-keeping is revolutionary: it is how we will rebuild the world.

Warriors, thank you for fighting for us. I honor and am grateful for your sacrifices and your work. As for me, I’ll be home tending my wounded, feeding my kid, teaching and taking care of my students, venerating my ancestors and tending the hearth. I’ll help make sure you have somewhere to come home to, something to fight for, someone to take care of you when you’re wounded in battle and someone to sing you to the ancestors if you fall, to tell your stories to those who will come later.  If you need me I’ll be in the kitchen, singing praise songs to my Lady.

Song: Sweeter than Apples

Honor and respect, profound blessings and thanks to Jackie Chuculate for lots of discussion about hearth and camp fire, and fire tending, and blessings to Jackie’s ancestors for holding her in their wisdom. Blessings and love to my own hearth community, especially Jesse, Marjorie, Antheus, Starwitch, Heathen Chinese, Rianorix and Kristil for ideas, edits, support, and love on every level. You are the community for which I tend hearth and who holds hearth with me, and this article exists because of you.
Advertisements

Erigone

“The Constellation Virgo – The Virgin”, Photo by Bill and Sally Fletcher  http://www.scienceandart.com/photovirgo.htm

Erigone

Beautiful Erigone with stars in your eyes
You are the delight of the god of delight
For the softness of your thighs, the softness of your sighs
Your soul tangled with vines, your blood rich with wine, your starry eyes gazed into his, tender and mad
In love and in thanks
Father Liber gave your father the secret of wine making
Your father, a generous man, shared his bounty, your bride price, the delight of grapes gone magic with time and prayer
And was torn to pieces and stuffed down a well for his troubles
Your dog, ever loyal, took you to find his watery grave
And you, in your despair, dangled like a spider from your silken filament, from your sturdy branch
As your eyes filled with stars
Your blood coursed with wine
Your dog sang his lamentations to the skies
And your vine tangled lover
Lifted you up
And with tender hands
Placed you among the stars

Ariadne

labyrinth_02

I scent beauty and I fall, fumbling, grasp the thread

I clumsy trip winding along the spiraling paths, following beauty, desperate, hungry

To the heart of the labyrinth I dance

Twirling, tangling, winding myself in you

Your threads entangle me

Tangled, tangled

I am trapped, a fly in your web, wrapped and trapped and wound and wound

We dance round, we dance round

Until I am nothing, until I am dissolved, cradled in your arms

I have forgotten my name

Or maybe I never had one

I dance in starlight

And you drink me down, consuming me

Your tongue chases my last gasping breaths

Inside, I am inside, I am inside you and you reweave me in starlight and silken threads

Dancing, dancing

You dance me into existence

I laugh a new laugh

I have a new name

That name is this moment

That name is laughter

That name is madness

And the return from madness

My hands clasp yours, my hands clasp the dancing maenads and we shriek and howl and rend and tear

Tearing around your twisting paths

Dancing

We are your monsters

Your blood and lymph

And we are drunk on screams and starlight

Spinning, spinning, forever encircling

Your pulsing heart.

Loki’s Goatse’an Mysteries (We’re Going Deep. Goatse Deep)

It’s not what you think. Um. Or it’s exactly what you think, so bear with me.

So here’s the background on this. Me and several other folks in my world have been having a round and round bunch of seeming silliness related to the Norse god Loki for quite a few months now. Someone does a meditation, there are dreams, divination happens, Loki possesses a medium, the god draws closer and what ends up happening inevitably is that the content of the message nearly immediately devolves into jokes about shit, jokes about testicles, or jokes about Goatse (this is a link to the Wikipedia page about Goatse, not a link to the actual picture… if you don’t know what Goatse is, you may want to consider checking out the Wikipedia page first. This post will make more sense if you know what I’m talking about). I finally sat down to meditate with Loki to try and gain some clarity  about this seeming obscene absurdity, since I was also given a very stern lecture a few months back that the more absurd or shocking Loki’s messages seems to be, the more truth he is speaking (if you can manage to decode what he’s saying). This essay is what, er, poured out of me when I sat with the question.

goatse-clouds

Did you know Goatse.cx was originally a web domain as well as internet shock site? The original plan was to provide web hosting services through this site apparently, though that didn’t end up happening. See? The Great Web of Creation, the internet of course being a microcosm of the Web of all that has been, is, becoming, and might be, the vast and tangled strands of information, communication and relationship that connect all of us and all things.  Goatse shocks you out of your complacency in part because you think you’re looking into the wrong end of creation. This is my end – the dissolution, whatever was created will eventually be destroyed and rewoven into new forms. From formlessness into form and back into formlessness, my mysteries are, in part, that conversion back to formlessness. What happens in your body when you’re done digesting? You bring in the raw materials you need to grow and sustain and heal, you break those down into their component parts, take what you need, get rid of the rest alongside your byproducts of metabolism, body toxins, all the things that if they were to sit inside you would eventually infect or poison you (same end result, different mode of operation). What leaves your body as shit returns to the web to sustain or poison others (is there a difference, really?). Your shit can make others sick or nourish plants and fungi and bacteria, and so the cycle continues. I may not be at the pretty end of the cycle but my end is equally important, equally ecstatic. How great do you feel after a really satisfying shit? When things are broken back down into formlessness there is a moment, an in-drawn breath when anything is possible because the binding forms have all dropped away. This is my magic, this is my gift, this is my realm. This is the domain of luck, chaos and chance (all different words for the same thing) – the unknown, the wildcard. There must be chaos woven into the web or the web would become too ordered, too static, and it would be too much work for the gods. We can’t order everything, nor would we want to. By giving you free will, you become partners in creation, you become creators yourselves. The orderliness gives you the opportunity for structure and for a starting point. Chaos and luck gives you enough unknown that you have something to work with, enough wiggle room that you can figure some of it out for yourselves. From here arises creativity, hope, choice, opportunity. That is where I dwell, in the moment before creation when all things are possible, in the moment of dissolution before the components are re-ordered into something meaningful. From here arises free will. From here arises creativity. From here arises hope and choice.

Why ball sacks? This is obvious. The ball sack holds the seeds of a man. A man’s seed is half empty, half full, incomplete. More opportunities for chance, choice, and creativity. Who will you partner with? Maybe you won’t partner at all? Maybe your half formed seed will find its way somewhere entirely else to do entirely different work than it was originally intended for? The ball sack, the dice cup filled with rolling dice, it’s all the same thing. But it shocks you when I say balls, so I say it as often as I can. Shock wakes you up, makes you look around to double check where you are, how you got there, where you’re going.

In Skadi’s story, I tie my ball sack to the beard of a nanny goat (get it? Goatse.cx?). A female with a beard, representing a type of gender liminal creature (let’s pretend for a moment that the obvious species and problematic politics your own thinkers will point out don’t matter or don’t exist, shall we?). Me, another gender liminal creature possibly on the other side of that binary, female with a beard, male without one? It’s my generative organs, that which should mark me as male but doesn’t, not really… that is tied to her facial hair which should mark her as male but doesn’t, not really. A rope, dynamic tension. Skadi understands. She is a woman (far more woman than I will ever be), clad in armor, wielding weapons and with enough male-gendered rage and skill to shake the walls of Asgard, taking on the role of an avenging son. She is given leave to choose a husband, based on the beauty of his, er, “feet”. Men aren’t used to being objectified quite so intensely based entirely on the beauty of what they think marks their masculinity. So she does that, emasculating them by focusing on that which defines their maleness, and judging it by a scale usually reserved for the judgment of women’s attributes. I reminded her of these artificial constructs, and the extremes and excesses as only I could. Laughter is a type of release, like orgasm. Maybe her laughter was an orgasm? Do you think maybe? She standing in her fiercest, most male expression of her woman power, dominating the men in the room using their own tools and tricks. So it would take a gender bending god with his junk tied to a gender bending goat to exemplify and underline this binary gendered dynamic tension, til the one extreme becomes the other and we all dissolve in a fit of orgasmic giggling. Of course her father’s eyes had to be cast into the heavens at that point to become stars, he’d already seen more than he needed to see, don’t you think?

Goats were also a very common sacrifice in some areas back in the days when you folks engaged with us in those older ways, you know. And I am the god who receives the sacrifices and transforms them from the form they have in your world into the form they take when carried over into ours. Mine is the sacrificial flame that immolates and transforms flesh and blood and bone and breath into the energy that can be gifted to the gods to whom you make your offering. An offering given to fire is an offering that passes through my hands, through my gates, for I own that particular gate (ask me about Gullveig sometime when you remember). I am the funerary fire as well, for what is a funeral pyre than a gate that dissolves the last of the mortal shell, allowing the energy stored in the body to free up and help carry the soul across my threshold into the hands of the gods who will receive them? This moment in the story, my balls, her beard, also speaks to the dynamic tension between she who is to be sacrificed and me who will receive her and transform her and gift her. This is why I am the gift giving god, the transmission passes through my hands and through my flames.

Shit and balls and death and transforming fire. I am part of the maintenance of the great Web of Creation. It’s not my fault you all have taboo-soaked fits when I talk about my mysteries. I am the force of chaos. I am the luck bringer who disrupts the order, who breaks the rules, who violates the taboos. I bring choice and free will. I insert the wild card threads into the weaving. And I pull apart the threads that have become too binding, I dissolve the threads whose time is done (whether you believe their time is done or not, your belief does not factor into this very much, except for when it does but that’s another mystery for another day). I am the other end of digestion, that which is returning to its component parts, that which has disintegrated or become dismembered or decoupled or deconstructed or destroyed, that which has lost its order. I am the opportunity and the unexpected. Do you get a little bit of it now?

Without me and gods like me there is nothing but order, nothing but the fated and the expected. There is no choice, there is no creativity, there is no spontaneity. There is no creation, for you see you need creativity for creation. Without us, what was created won’t get destroyed, and then where will you be? Up to your (possibly metaphorical) balls in shit and corpses that won’t rot, that’s where. What is created eventually must be destroyed. What is destroyed will find its way back into a new form, a new creation. Formlessness into form, form into formlessness, and thus the cycle continues. But it’s all an illusion, isn’t it? Creation, destruction, nothing is created nor destroyed, it just changes shape. Like the waves on the ocean, peaking and flattening. The movement is always meaningful, at least for a moment. And every movement sparks more movement, an endless dance of rising and falling, in and out like fucking, the release that orgasm brings.

Did you know orgasm is in part a reflex response? It’s what happens when the part of your nervous system that screams fight or flee and the part of your nervous system that soothes and calms subsume one another, until the dynamic tension binding seeming opposite binaries within your own body snaps and dissolves into a sparkling cascade of neurochemicals that disrupts thoughts as well as all your other body systems. I exist in that release, the tension and the dissolution of tension. Have you ever come so hard you dissolved into giggles? Have you ever come so hard you dissolved into wracking sobs? What’s the difference, really? There isn’t one, your circuits have been overloaded and joy and sadness and anger and trust and fear and safety blur until there isn’t any real distinction between any of these, just a scramble of chemicals and sparking nerves and release and dissolution.  This is where I live, in the blurred lines, in the release, in the screams and the ecstasy and immediate and the chance and the luck and the chaos and the dissolution.

So yes, I cry when you’re happy and laugh when you’re mad and talk endlessly about shit and balls and Goatse (who is my favorite, forever). My mysteries are real mysteries, even if you’re too squeamish to hear me. You don’t have to invite me to your parties, but random chance is gonna sneak in the door anyhow. So decide for yourself if you want me as a welcome guest or as a gate crasher, I’m coming either way (did you see what I did there?). Will you court luck, try to improve or strengthen it, or will you assume you have no say in which way your luck falls?  Will you joyfully open to chaos or will you fight it? How wide can you open? How  deep do these mysteries go? My doors are always open to you, you know, and you’ll pass through my gates eventually, one way or another.

goatse-road

The Gods are Bigger than Us, How We Treat One Another Is Important, and These Two Statements Have Nothing To Do With One Another

As the broader Western Polytheist communities have grown in recent years, there has been quite a lot of vigorous debate about the nature of polytheism, who “counts” as a polytheist, who has the authority to speak about polytheism, etc. This debate is healthy and a very good sign in my opinion – it shows that we all care enough about the ongoing development of our religions and our religious communities that we are willing to wrestle with definitions, beliefs and practices. My concern with the debates as they have been developing is that some participants seem to be trying to exclude others based on ideology that may or may not have anything to do with any one person’s specific polytheist religion. My concern as well is that we are so busy arguing over whose polytheism is *wrong* and what polytheism shouldn’t be, that we are not talking nearly enough about what our own individual polytheisms *are* or *could be*. Polytheism is an umbrella of religions, traditions, and personal beliefs and practice that share one specific thing in common: a belief in more than one god, and religious worship, rituals or structures stemming from that belief. Which gods are worshipped will depend on the tradition; what form the religious practices may take will vary as well. Additionally, lots and lots of specific aspects of theology, philosophy, politics, ethics, codes of conduct, expectations around types and methods of engagement, and many many other things will also vary by tradition and by person within any given tradition. I have mostly stayed out of these public discussions as I am generally more interested in developing and practicing my own traditions and supporting my immediate community, and find I cannot keep up with the controversies in a timely enough manner to be able to participate in the arguments. But I did want to speak to what polytheism is and is not *for me*.

My polytheism gives me the opportunity to participate in a nuanced, relational, complex and interconnected world. My gods, spirits and blessed powers are complex individual beings who exist in relation to me, one another, and everything in existence.  Not because of me, but in relation to me, as I exist in relation to them, you, and all things. Some of the gods whom I worship help gather and maintain the formless potential; some have a variety of roles in shaping and spinning that potential into something manifest; some help weave and direct those threads, some cut or edit those threads. Not all threads are human lives; in fact, the majority of those threads aren’t. These threads include the individual and collective lives of other living beings (trees, fish, bacteria, fungi, birds, all things). These threads include the movement of non-living beings (rivers, storms, earthquakes, rocks, soil, cliff erosion, planetary movement, stars and comets and asteroids and light and gravity and radio waves and all manner of things with and without consciousness as we may understand it). These threads include how any and all of these things interact with and are impacted by one another, and how any and all of these things interact with the passage of time. To my understanding of such things, the Gods help shape, create, influence, facilitate, and otherwise play some role in the creation, weaving, maintenance, and destruction of all of these threads. We living humans are a very tiny part of a large, layered and interconnected web of all those things that have ever been, are in process of becoming, and might ever be. I am humbled and gladdened and delighted and sometimes terrified and awed by the magnificence and scope of it all. It is more than I can hold in my head. Luckily, it is not at all my job to try and hold any of that in my head – I did not create this world, and it is not my job to influence anything more than the extraordinarily tiny corner I occupy as a living human.

I love my Blessed Powers, I love having the honor and opportunity to be in intentional relationship with them, to catch glimpses of their spheres of influence and work, and sometimes to get to participate in very very tiny ways with what these larger plans may be. For, in my understanding, each of us has the influence we have, and when I can find my way into right relationship (with my gods, my community, my environment, my ancestors, and the great Web that connects all of us), I trust my Blessed ones to help me and guide me to contribute in a positive way to these larger plans. Receiving help and guidance does not absolve me in any way of my responsibility to take care of myself, my family, my community; this does not take away my ability nor my responsibility to choose my actions wisely and carefully.  But this does mean that I don’t choose the “freedom” of pretending my choices only impact me alone. If I am to act in the world, I do so to the best of my ability with the guidance of my Blessed Powers. Because I trust them to see things I don’t see, to understand and know things that I could not know nor understand.

Does this make me “subservient”, unequal, operating as a mindless slave to cruel and uncaring power-mad Beings that don’t actually care about me nor about humanity as a whole? Not at all. Why would my Powers want someone without worth nor merit to be in relationship with them? What would they possibly get from such a dynamic? What would I get from interacting in such a dynamic? But does this make the gods and I “equals”? I believe we all run into trouble when trying to overlay human concepts of how humans can or should interact with one another from a “power” perspective on top of divine relationships. I don’t know how to translate the concept of “equality” into my relationship with the Gods. Am I “equal” to the consciousness that drives a thunderstorm? Am I “equal” to the spark of inspiration that pulls shape from formlessness? If I understand Gods as being giant invisible humans with human-style motivations, intelligence and reasoning, then perhaps the idea of us being equals in some shape or another makes sense. But that is not how I understand my Powers, nor how I relate to them.

I think the Gods and other large non-human, noncorporeal beings can and do have individual relationships with individual humans. But when I think about how many humans are on this planet currently, how many of us have ever been here going back to the first homo Sapien, and how many are still to come (and that’s just the humans, and doesn’t include any other living and nonliving beings that have ever been, are here currently, nor will be eventually), I am reminded that my understanding of the Blessed Powers includes a concept of them being very large and very old. I am reminded that the Gods as I understand them helped us to develop as a species when we first differentiated from other primates. I remember that my understanding of these Powers is that they play a role in shaping and interconnecting and managing all that is, some from the beginning of time as we know it and others possibly until the end as it might eventually come to pass. I remember that, compared to them, we are very tiny in scope, size and perspective, and we exist very briefly in comparison to them.

This does not mean we don’t have worth; this does not mean we don’t matter. We do matter; we matter to ourselves and to one another. We are important to our contemporary communities, we are important to the ancestors who came before us and believed in their future descendants enough to try and do right by us, and we will be important to those descendants who will come after us. We have impact; we certainly as a species have had a tremendous impact on other plants and animals, we have shaped the landscape and the climate of this entire planet in incredibly powerful and dramatic ways over the past several thousand years. We certainly matter, and we certainly have had impact, positive, negative, and otherwise. We matter individually and we matter collectively, now and over time. I, for one, am grateful to have personal relationships with deities that can hold that bigger perspective and help direct me towards some version of a greater good, both for me individually now in this moment and for how I might contribute positively to that larger interconnected picture over time.

Where do human concepts of power and power dynamics come into this perception? I think these conversations become very important when it comes specifically to the human end of things. How are we talking to one another? How are we managing our communities? Who is considered an authority or an elder, and why? And what if any respect do we give to those folks? Under whose say-so? Who, if anyone, acts as mediator or gatekeeper for our connection to the Blessed Powers, and how does that mediation happen? I for one am glad to be in community with folks who have been doing some of my traditions longer than me. I love having elders (though these relationships can and do get complicated for all sorts of reasons usually relating to human failings). I am glad I don’t have to be the expert in everything, and that I can receive the benefit of other people’s skills, elevations, education, and experience. And I am very grateful and humbled by those who trust me to help them by using the skills, elevations and experiences I’ve managed to get along the way. And any time there are other humans in the equation, I will always do my best to keep my eyes open and watch for who I lean on and why and how, and whether or not they deserve the power and control I am mindfully and consensually giving them. And I will do my best to stay mindful of who leans on me, and strive to do right by folks who trust me in that way.

My understanding of the word “religion” includes several things. It includes the shape of the bonds, oaths and connections that exist between humans and numinous beings (including Gods, ancestors, and others). It also includes how those relationships are enacted and maintained, both individually and in community; the rules that shape and inform the enactment of those relationships. In the religion in which I was raised (conservative NY Ashkenazi Judaism), our oaths and relationship with the main God of that religion includes quite a lot of rules that govern how we relate to other humans, from the well-known rules such as “thou shalt not kill” to rules not as widely understood outside of our religion such as “tikkun olam” (basically, a requirement to help heal and improve the world around us through kindness, justice, charity, and other intentional actions). These rules are part of the oaths we have with the Jewish God. These rules are Jewish rules, and are not necessarily expected to be followed by non-Jews (though of course, many religions have similar rules, and many societies have laws or community standards that may match those and other rules). Under the specific rules and oaths that bind the Jewish People to our God, we are commanded to take care of one another, to modify our behavior in a variety of ways, to enact a whole host of requirements both spiritual and mundane, all as part of enacting the reciprocal relationship we have with the God of the Jews. Again, these rules are Jewish rules, and are not expected to be performed by non-Jews.

Individual Polytheist religions may have their own sets of rules that govern their individual religions. Particularly for re-created, reconstructed, and actively emerging Polytheist religions (which is much though not all of what is being practiced here in the Western world), some participants may be in active dialogue with their individual Powers to bring forth such rules. One individual group or practitioner may find that part of their emerging religion includes requirements or suggestions from their gods to engage in social justice work, environmental protection activities, or other types of activities that the Blessed Powers themselves have asked or insisted that their devotees do in service to those Powers. Other traditions may have different rules and requirements.  As with my above example from Judaism, individual sets of rules and requirements from any one religious tradition will only apply to folks who are participating in those specific religious traditions, and are not universal nor universalize-able. These may be tradition specific rules but are not in any way universal “polytheist” rules. We run ourselves into trouble when we try and push the rules of our individual traditions on other people’s traditions (whether we are trying to insist that all religions should include politics and activism, or we are trying to insist that none require such things). Polytheism as an umbrella concept does not include mandatory human-based community service, politics, nor activism. Polytheism as an umbrella concept also does not forbid nor preclude its inclusion. Because not all polytheisms are the same polytheism, and if we are going to attempt to support one another as an interfaith umbrella, we must operate from a baseline of respect.

Where do standards of community inclusion land in this vision? I personally refuse to invite white supremacist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, misogynistic polytheist groups into the communities where I am doing my work. People and groups who actively speak, act, or uphold certain beliefs that are toxic and harmful to me and other members of my community are not welcome to come to my groups, to participate in my classes, nor join my organizations. This does not mean that these individuals or groups are not polytheist. But it does mean that, for human reasons relating to respect and safety, I will not break bread with such folks. This is not about whether or not their beliefs or traditions are truly polytheist; this is about their human politics. Perhaps other polytheists don’t like nor respect parts of how I live my polytheist traditions, and they can choose not to break bread nor do polytheist interfaith religious organizing and advocacy work with me. As folks building interconnected community, we get to decide who we want to stand with, who we want to support, who we will allow to join our groups and attend our meetings. We get to set and enforce rules that will govern interactions and shape social mores within the communities in which we have influence, and I hope our communities will do so more consistently. Community standards are important and good, and some of us may have specific individual or tradition-wide rules developed in partnership with the other humans in the group or even with our Blessed Powers that require or forbid certain ways of interacting with others. For myself, my Gods insist on certain standards of hospitality. I do my best to follow those standards, both as a guest and as a host. So there are certain groups I will not attend, because the requirements I have around being a good guest are not possible for me to enact in those spaces. There are folks I will not have in my groups because part of my religious requirements as a host includes doing my best to keep my guests safe and treated with respect.  But again, those are all rules governing groups, and may be in some cases religious requirements of specific traditions. These are not necessarily about how humans relate to the gods directly, nor are they universal to all polytheist traditions (though individual traditions or denominations or kindreds or groves or groups may choose to stand in closer alignment with other individual groups whose politics or rules are more similar to their own; that makes good sense and makes for stronger allies in many cases). Likewise, individual groups may choose to speak out against the politics of other groups because the politics or the rules are problematic; this does not make either group more or less authentically “polytheist”; these are human-realm issues and no less important for being human-based.

I am glad that folks are wrestling with their polytheisms. I am glad folks are asking themselves and one another hard questions about the development of polytheist community standards, who will be included under which umbrella etc. I think the wrestling is the sign of healthy communities, made up of folks who love their gods and their traditions enough to fight passionately about them. I do wish folks would get more clear about which parts are individual tradition-based versus polytheism-wide issues. I do wish we would stop with the personal attacks. And I am looking forward to the conversations returning to how we can best worship our gods, serve our communities, and live our polytheist traditions.