All posts by riverdevora

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.