It’s a work in progress, but this is our current indoor shrine in our new home.
(My addition to the current conversation that’s growing at My Polytheism. If you’ve not looked into the project, I highly recommend it.)
My polytheism began when I was a little girl and my father expressed that the trees and everything around us had a spirit. We were wandering around a pond the land we owned, and I remember the truth in this settling into the very marrow of my bones. There was a give and take I placed there even then.
If we take, we must give back. If we give, we will receive, though it will always be more of what we need than necessarily what we want.
My polytheism grew with me. Even now as I grow and get comfortable in the space of adulthood and motherhood, it grows as I do. I am a microcosm of the nature of the universe around me. My bones are the stone under the soil of my skin. My breath is the spark of life and the wind in my hair. My actions ripple out into the macrocosm of it all.
This is why the wind in the trees and the summer cicadas’ singing feels like home, like family, like peace. Like Gods.
This is why I struggle with saying we must put the Gods first, because the thread that ties everything together is a God. If everything is tied together, if that current is a God, then we all are the vessels of sacredness, like a lamp holding oil. We are all bits of Divine. We are capable of burning bright and wild or gently and dim. There is really no wrong way to be a flame for the Gods. There is only sustainable and unsustainable.
The Gods are within us as we go about our daily lives. I recognize that the Gods are individuals just as we are. I understand that serving the people, building our communities, and honoring the needs of others is, in fact, putting the Gods first.
We cannot build a temple without a foundation. In a history that has been constructed on the backs of suffering, it is our duty to see to it that our builders are healthy, happy, and strong. That we don’t exploit those who depend on us in whatever capacity it is we fill in the community. That we take care of each other. That we honor our differences, and we keep in mind that it’s both healthy and expected for there to be variations.
Rome, as they say, was not built in a day and neither are sustainable traditions for the Gods. And the piety of European ancestors included caring for the members of our families and our later communities and civilizations. This is the evolution of piety in the hands of humans, for we approach the Gods not as equals but filling a needed role all the same.
My polytheism falls into the constant ebb and flow of the life in my home. On the days I am tired and not sure I’m interested in keeping the hearth shrine, I’m joined by a young child requesting we offer to the Gods. On the days I’m not sure I’m thankful, she is there like a gift to remind me that I am. We continue to feel out the world of the Gods around us on the constantly shifting clay soil as we encourage the roots to sink in deeper. Our work is that of a horticulturalist carefully tending the starts brought over the ocean from our Ancestor’s lands of the World Tree, assuring that the growth is strong and the roots have taken hold.
My polytheism celebrates the simple joys. We offer our favorite foods of both the New and Old Worlds – Tomatoes, peaches, and cornmeal. Soy beans for an Ancestor, who dedicated his life to the plant. Catfish to the one who was said to know the Missouri River better than any other fisherman, a legend in his neck of the woods. We celebrate the birthdays of those who came before us, because they never fully go away. We mark the anniversary of their deaths, bittersweet that they have left us but overjoyed they have gone to the Ancestors that allow us to still have a relationship with them.
My polytheism is pulling over to the side of the road when meeting a funeral procession. It is flowers on the graves of my Beloved Dead on Memorial Day. It is hours upon hours of combing through French documents year after year in hopes of finding a clue to where my family tree originated from.
It is not very interested in worrying too heavily with breaking away from cultural thought that is steeped in a history of monotheism simply because it was from a monotheistic history. It’s more interested in finding the truth and reason behind those cultural moorings, deciding if they matter and pertain to my life now, and tossing away what holds no use to me in the present. At the end of the day I recognize that plants grow stronger and better when put in soil with some manure in it for lack of a more graceful metaphor. My Ancestor’s beliefs, those of some of the first ministers and religious revolutionaries, were beliefs that their lives revolved completely around. My approach is firmly rooted in approaching those Ancestors in a way that allows us to compromise. To simply throw them completely away isn’t necessary as long as I am aware of the hows, whys, and where of their origin. Throwing everything away feels like impiety to the branches that connect me back to the source of mankind.
My polytheism is unapologetically animistic. I have laid my ear to the exposed rocks of the river bluffs to hear their whispers. I have experienced the purifying and healing gifts of the great rivers flowing through the Midwest. I have found peace while having tea with the plants I tend. As an artist, I have breathed the life of spirits into the pieces I create, and the spirits come wishing to have their stories told in paint, in metal, in clay.
It understands that nature isn’t here for me. And sometimes it’s beautiful. And sometimes it’s brutal.
My polytheism informs every part of my life. From the broom sweeping across the floors of my home to the way I go about making dinner for my family to the prayer of “Drive safely” each time one of mine go out on an errand or away for the day. My family of blood, my family of choice, each relationship within it is sacred and important, and without them I would fail to thrive or have full purpose. Of that I am not ashamed. For that I am thankful.
But the most important part of my polytheism is that it’s open to new ideas and experiences. Rituals change. Observance of a set religious calendar waxes and wanes, starts anew, some things lingering some things losing meaning in the environment I am in. My own understanding of the way things are is humbly changing as new evidence is brought to me, molded by the hands of my Gods and co-religionists in their bravery of talking about their own experiences openly, willing to speak vulnerably and honestly.
Willing to put their necks out.
Willing to brave the fickle waters of our community.
Sometimes we’re on the same boat. Sometimes we wave at each other in passing. Sometimes we break against rocks or get pulled under by an undercurrent. Sometimes we try to sink each other. But we’re still on the same water, and ignoring that weakens the strength that many spirits can build in order to keep us all afloat.
The Foxglove Household is currently packing our home up, house hunting, and prepping to head to Memphis, Tennessee, sometime at the end of this month to beginning of next month. It’s a relief to know that we’ll be there for at least 3 years, but we’re really just planning on everything going right and hopefully putting down permanent roots there at this point. I’m personally sick of interstate moving already, and we don’t have this one finished yet.
I have 2 jewelry pieces to get made today, and then the jewelry bench is going to be packed up and my Etsy shop up into vacation-mode until most likely September or October. I’m not sure if I’m going to have a lot of room for a jewelry bench at our new place, but hopefully so.
So if you don’t hear from me for a bit, don’t worry! I’ll be back to talk about how magical our new city is.
First, my latest at PaganSquare is up. I started the month writing a post on the Rosalia rituals of Rome, and when I did that I never thought I would be actively using that information the very same week I sat down to write it. I didn’t think I’d struggle with whether or not to say anything publicly at all, because I fall into all 3 categories involved in the social media world in regards to Pulse. I’m an ally to the Latinx and POC communities. I’m a member of the QUILTBAG community. I also happen to be bipolar and mentally ill, whose community gets thrown under the bus pretty much any time a mass shooting happens.
Right now to me the most important voices in this are those of the Queer Latinx community, because I’m greatly aware of what they face on a daily basis. I sincerely hope that my words don’t drown out those voices. I’ve struggled with trying to figure out if this is a place where my voice was needed or if my listening with an open heart was needed. Maybe it’s both?
I knew my outrage wasn’t, even if I’m wet hen levels of outraged. If I can’t tear something down with it, it’s not of use in writing, and right now I’m too tired to tear anything down.
I’m holding off on the bipolar conversation for a while, because I don’t feel like now is the time to talk about it. But I will talk about it. Again.
If I’m excessively quiet in the upcoming weeks, it’s because I’m in the middle of moving. Exactly when I’m not sure of. Probably at the end of next month. I don’t know where either yet beyond “Not Missouri.” I keep announcing this basically everywhere with mounting anxiety. I mean, at least we’ve narrowed it down, I guess?
Life: Where the light at the end of the tunnel is hopefully not a train. Again.
(Please be nice to me, Internet. Please?)
Over the last few years in discussions with individuals and smaller groups of godspouses, I’ve noticed the repetition of the more experienced and public godspouses* stepping away from larger groups or backing away from being public about the nature of their relationships. If you talk to the people stepping back, a lot of times that is due to the fact that they tend to deal with a lot of overshare from others. I am perhaps lucky, because I’m over here working with a completely different type of situation and for the most part the larger Apollonian community in the past has been very, very good about leaving out the more private details of marital relations. There was a generally agreed-upon rule that it wasn’t a topic to be discussed in forums or groups, and it was a close knit community specifically because that trust was there. We weren’t going to talk about sex, and that is because we cared as much about the feelings of those we consider dear friends as we do our Spouses.
I am bringing this up, because I feel like someone needs to. I’ve seen far too many godspouses express regret going public about their experiences due to overshare. And it’s not something we should be ignoring. When we don’t respect the boundaries of those who are willing to be open and share their experiences with us, especially those who may be newer to spousal situations, we run the risk of causing those who actually have a lot to teach us about religious and spiritual practice to stop sharing.
I haven’t been public that long, and yet every once in a while an email shows up with a long explanation from a complete stranger about what is happening in their beds at night almost immediately after “Dear Ms Laurentine.”
Y’all, that’s not okay. In a population stressing consent culture, in a population that regularly has a higher number of people comfortable with polyamory, we should know better than to be launching into intimate and personal stories without asking if it’s okay to talk about it with a person first. Even if they’re your friend, especially if they’re your friend, you should be asking, “Hey, can I talk to you about this?” or “I have a question about how to (XYZ). Would you mind talking to me about it?”
And if they say no then leave them the Hel alone.
You should ask every time if it’s okay, even if you’ve talked about it a million times before with the person. Why?
Because public godspouses are allowed to be human, which means they’re allowed to have bad days. They’re allowed to be jealous. They’re allowed to not like another spouse of their Spouse. They don’t owe you anything for free, and while what they’re writing may help you, they may not be blogging with the express purpose of helping you figure out your own relationship with the Powers. That may just be a perk that comes with writing about their personal experiences, which they may be doing for completely different reasons than helping others out. I love helping people, but I also gain a lot of insight into my own experiences by writing. A lot of what I write is never seen by anyone, but I post things that I hope may help others in some way when it comes to what I post about being a godspouse. I was one for many years before I was ever asked to come out about it, and it was actually kind of terrifying to do so. Not just because I was worried about what others would think and say, but because I didn’t want to be driven to burn-out by people demanding more information that I was comfortable sharing.
I’d seen it happen to others before I ever went public.
We need to remember that not everyone in our community is polyamorous, which if you think about it has to be really, really hard on those who are monogamous when they run into another spouse of their Spouse (or worse, get an email asking how to start a romantic relationship with Them). It isn’t our job to try to make the monogamous person accept the situation. It isn’t anyone’s job to try to force someone to work through their jealousy. In fact, as a willingly monogamous poly person, I would say that it’s our job to approach the situation with empathy, since hopefully we realize how hard it can be to confront our own jealousy. Some people aren’t ready to. Some people will never do it or won’t be able to turn that off. And you know what? That’s okay. Really. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it’s absolutely none of our business.
Just because they’re married to your Spouse that doesn’t mean you’re suddenly best friends who can tell each other everything in graphic detail. Even if you are best friends, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask before launching into intimate discussions if the person is up to it first.
Always. Ask. First.
Not just “How do I sex God X up?” Especially if you’ve never actually talked to the person before. Not just “(insert paragraph on sexy times with God X),” because that is literally the godspouse equivalent of an unsolicited dick pic.
Consent. We talk about its importance in rituals and relationships, and yet we don’t stop to practice it in day-to-day encounters with our fellow coreligionists.
You may know a ton about the life of someone due to reading their blog. You may feel like you know them almost as well as you know yourself. You may share a Spouse. Stop and think before you write that long, steamy email that borders on erotica. Just because you feel like you know this complete stranger doesn’t mean you aren’t a complete stranger to them.
Always ask if they’re willing to talk first. If you have sex questions, state that you have sex questions instead of just generic questions. And accept without any hard feelings if people don’t want to talk to you about it… Truth be told, we all have lives and every email we answer may eat up a lot of time with absolutely nothing in return but good feelings. (This sounds horrible, but there have been points where if I’d answered all my emails I would have lost my entire day.)
And if you’re in a group situation like forums or a Facebook group? This should go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway… This is one of those places where content warning goes a long, long way. Sex positivity only works when it’s also consenting and respectful of boundaries.
Let’s work on that together, shall we? I probably have some area where I need to work on it, too. Respect of boundaries and consent are the building blocks to making the environment a place where we can all grow and learn from each other. They are the only way we will be able to learn from the experiences of those who have come before us, and it’s our responsibility as a part of this community to do whatever we can to make sure we don’t make the space an unhealthy one by ignoring the boundaries of others.
*I use the term godspouse, but this goes for any group or individual that involves a deeper intimate relationship with the Gods and Powers.
At the end of February, I had a dream that concerned me. A bulldozer came down the hill behind my house, destroying the wooded space until I could see my neighbors’ homes. Later in the day I went out to my backyard to see that someone had destroyed my shrines. Every last one. All of them Roman – Altars included. Busted and broken. Scattered.
I was terrified. I ran to my home, slamming the door shut, but all the locks were broken. I kept looking for my dog (which in reality I don’t have), but I couldn’t find him to protect me from whatever it was coming for me. Everything was going to be destroyed and they were coming for me. No one was there to help me.
The next day in my waking life, a friend was kind enough to come sit down and look into the space. I was scared for my hill. I was scared about being attacked somehow, and I made sure to ward my home more than I had in years. I realized I wasn’t really in danger, but it scared me all the same. We sat next to the man-made stream and sat with the hill.
As we got to talking, she said that there was something coming. That it was big, dark, and cold. I remember chuckling, because I know Who she was talking about, because I’ve spent so long with Him now. I admitted I was still scared, though, because I couldn’t see what was on the horizon. So much of my life is up in the air and prone to change at any moment radically.
She asked me why I thought what was coming was a bad thing.
That answer was both easy and hard to answer. Despite the chaos of all the changes in the last few years and the rending away of things that didn’t really matter, I’d held on tightly to other things that I’d worked so hard to obtain for myself – Things that had been my anchor during other points of upheaval in my life. Things that I always fell back on when I felt like I didn’t have anything else.
What I was talking about were my Gods, the Roman pantheon, and the rituals that layout the groundwork of Roman polytheism.
I knew that my path wasn’t meant to remain in Roman cultus, but it’s been hard to let go of. The Roman Revivalist group on Facebook is one of the few friendly and (relatively) drama free Pagan/polytheist groups I’ve ever been in, and I’m very proud of the members being willing to work to keep it peaceful and open. (It’s like we can all be adults on the internet or something!) I’d started the project of laying out framework for bringing more user-friendly education out, though that’s been stalled for so long. I was offered a blog about Roman polytheism on PaganSquare.
All of this happened the same month I was told by more than one person that my home wasn’t going to remain in Roman polytheism. My journey was going to go elsewhere. These things had just been fought for or had fallen into my lap. At the time I thought eventually I’d publish some work and build a stronger community. I didn’t want to give that up. The relatively small Roman community, especially at that point, didn’t have a lot of voices in the larger Pagan and polytheist communities. As someone who slowly came into the bravery to say, “Yes, I am a Roman polytheist despite not being a stringent reconstructionist,” I was, and still am, afraid that the wrong voices will try to fill the void in the larger community. I’m afraid they will be taken seriously.
People say we need to keep politics out of religion, and to some degree I agree. I think the various religious communities in the larger community should take responsibility to remove those who are likely going to do more damage by speaking even subtly (but obviously) about things like racism. If people put the word minority in quotation marks, for instance, that’s a sign to me that maybe they are harboring some sort of race issue. To me that’s concerning, because if they’re given a platform to speak in an area where there’s a void of authoritative voices, we find things possibly taking an ugly turn. If you see them swinging around accusations of fascism without any proof what-so-ever given to the community to judge, it’s equally as dangerous.
Especially if they’ve expressed more than once that they want to be in a place of leadership and have their hand in our traditions. Even more so when they’ve said it regularly and have years worth of blog posts bragging about their power, authority, and greatness while talking down to any group they see as less worthy than them.
More concerning to me, though, is that people are aligning with these two extremes. They’re giving them a platform to speak and that inevitably hands them power. Power in a place where their words can reach the ears of those who may be vulnerable or needing guidance, because despite us not being monotheists we still have those vulnerable and searching for the truth. Our lack of vetted clergy and professionally trained support systems makes it everyone’s duty to watch out for those we claim are in our communities and tribes. When we choose no leaders, when we revel in our lack of hierarchy, when we deny the need for education in our clergy due to fear that man will be corrupted by power, but still rallying to the sides of those who are the simply loudest, we are required to step up and care for our own. The loudest and most charismatic become our leaders, and when drama is kicked up people are made or broken in the shuffle to take sides.
If you don’t consider yourself a part of the larger community, but you’re still selling services, educational materials, or items made specifically for the community that means you’re a member of it whether you want to be or not. Many times those doing so are considered leaders or educators, and if they don’t see that then they are sadly not doing their duty to the group of people who are paying at least some of their income. This may sound like it’s directed at a single person or one side, but it’s not. Those who are in leadership positions of any capacity have a moral responsibility to protect their community from extremism, and we need to set aside our need to be right about something to realize that extremism comes in many, many forms.
In my moments away from blogging in the last few months and doing my best to stay out of this recent polarized The Neo-Right and Progressives are Eating Our Babies drama has made me realize something. We waste so much time debating and warring against each other that could be spent building our traditions. We do it on Facebook. We do it on blogs. We do it one other social media… Except maybe Pinterest, but that’s only because no one has written a blog on how to preserve the heads of our enemies in mason jars yet. Though I’m sure someone is working on it.
I stop nearly every day and ask myself, “Is what I’m spending my time on what I want my legacy to be? Is this how I want to be remembered if I were to die tomorrow?”
Lately I’ve been saying no a lot. Especially when it comes to my religious community and my place within it.
A week or two ago one morning when I was drinking my coffee, I looked out my back window at my hill to see this:
The cloud of dirt as the trees and plants were broken or ripped from the ground looked like what I’d seen in my dream. I don’t live in a forest overlooking a lake, and my back yard isn’t covered in shrines due to having an open yard. The hill is there, though, and the spirit living there and I have been talking for much longer than I’ve lived here. It’s not happy with the changes coming, and really neither am I. The wild space is getting smaller and smaller where we are.
It was warning to brace myself for what was to come. I just didn’t know what.
A few days ago I realized that I’m tired. I’ve heard myself say all too often lately that I just want to be the witch by herself in the forest that’s left to her own devices. I’m tired of the fact that no matter what I say someone will always come along and tell me how I’m wrong. Most of the time that involves personal attacks or some expectation that I’m going to cave because someone doesn’t want me where I am. I am endlessly thankful for those who stand up for me while I sometimes struggle in finding my words, because sometimes it takes me a while these days. Two days ago someone accused me of supporting a group which is considered a dangerous cult and is run by a convicted child molester. They had decided that due to my announcement that I’m a progressive democratic socialist (a fact that has never been hidden, mind you); the humorous thing to me is I’d never even heard of the group and had to look it up. Others people in the Facebook group stood up for my choice to ban someone who had a history of being openly racist and polarizing. I finally got my shock and anger in check enough to stand up for myself.
But I was left with this entirely too realistic feeling that I’m done. I’m done with the constant assault of new people coming into the group and invariably having to learn that in some parts of the Pagan/polythiest internet, there’s a group that doesn’t run in a way that is regularly business as usual with insults and shit-flinging. This shouldn’t have to be a thing we deal with. We shouldn’t allow for disruptive voices and a lack of common decency, but as a whole our community is a petri dish for it.
This week I also found everything finally fell into place and I realized fully what my entire journey over the last few years meant. I realized where I’m going religiously. I realized what I’m meant to be doing with all of it. And I really, really realized how emotionally done with the larger Roman community I am, because we are absolutely infamous for being a bunch of stringently petty assholes with too many obscure sources to look down upon the less educated.
I have spent so much of my energy on trying to change that over the last few years, and somehow there is a constant influx of people coming into my world who attack me typically due to something personal – My sexual orientation, my gender, my disability, or my politics that have been absolutely woven into the movement I’ve been trying to build with others. And they do that because on the internet the loudest and most aggressively knowledgeable or verbally charged are the ones who gain power.
Recently I’ve seen some discussion and suggestion about how we can keep our elders and leaders in our communities. Typically they involve giving them more power (and maneuvering for said position). You know what the number one step should be?
We should quit being assholes. (Myself included.)
My swan song in the Roman community is being sung at the point where I see how the future has the possibility for some very, very bleak moments that will never foster the type of activity that makes the polytheistic traditions of Rome having a major voice in the larger community. I see a handful of voices shouting out above the constant drone of drama and dreams of temples being rebuilt, but save for those few voices I have yet to see the work done that would bring the traditions to their full potential and awareness in the larger community. I’ve seen bullying and posturing.
The Roman community is a microcosm for the larger polytheist community. I’m sure these struggles have played out in multiple places over the ages. I’m not entirely sure I will see a future where the people I’ve met over the years, those who I feel have a good grasp of what the true beauty of Religio Romana or Cultus Deorum is, aren’t worn down by the masses wishing to dominate with their self-weighed superior scholarly skills.
Y’all, our rituals are supposed to be what’s perfected, not our accumulated book knowledge. More than once in my life I’ve been chided about my focus on the home cultus over the grand festivals of the State religion. Rome, they say, was a religion of the community. What they fail to understand is that without the flame in the hearth being fed every day, the People starve, and if the People starve than there is no one there to honor the Gods as a community.
There is no larger community if the flame goes out.
If our traditions are tiny candles being lit across the world one-by-one in homes, how do we get the fire built to feed not only the Gods but the communities we wish to build? How do we feed the flame instead of fanning the fire that makes it burn too hot and fast? What do we need to do to keep the fires burning in our hearth? The blazing funeral pyre destroys. It doesn’t nourish. There is no future if, in the deepest darkest of nights, the flame goes out. We freeze to death instead.
These are the questions I’ve been asking myself while this blog has been generally silent. I’m not sure I have answers yet, nor do I think I, alone, will ever have all them.
And for those of you worried that I’m going to run off from my community duties as soon as I hit publish on this, don’t worry. I’m still going to stick around to wander into certain groups and say, “Hey, you crazy kids, be nice to each other” for at least a little while longer. At least until I know my old sandbox is in safe hands.
I just can’t say I’m a Roman polytheist anymore.
My shrines have been destroyed and scattered by my neighbors. My altars tumbled. Well, metaphorically. I’m not that impious.
But you know what? There’s freedom in that.
People who align with evil to defeat another group perceived as evil is not winning or strengthening anything. Stop and consider what another person has been saying for a long, long time before agreeing to whatever timely blog post they’ve put up. Make sure you agree with their message instead of just that blog post, because while what they’re saying could really line up with your current feelings against a bully, they may be, I don’t know… Not actually in alignment as to what you feel is right and true.
They may be out for power.
They may be waiting to drown you in the well they’ve poisoned.
It is entirely possible to stand in middle ground and say, “Actually, I don’t want either of these realities in my religious world.”
Critical thinking of all sides, even your own, is necessary to make the right choice.
The lesser of the two evils is still evil.
You, my friends, are better than that.