My Polytheism

(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.

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Call For Submissions for a Beloved Dead Devotional

I said I wasn’t going to start this, and yet here I am anyway…  Doing the Work.

Crossing the River: A Devotional to Our Beloved Dead

Calling for submissions for Crossing the River: A Devotional to Our Beloved Dead, edited by Camilla Laurentine (and possibly others to sign on at a later date). Submissions open August 7th, 2014 and close February 28th, 2015.

The intention of this devotional is to build a source book of modern meditations, hymns, prayers, and other resources for death workers working in our greater community. All Pagan and Polytheist traditions are welcome and encouraged to submit to this project.

Submissions should fall into one of three categories: Vigil of the Dying, For the Recently Deceased, and Funerary Tools. They may include, but are not limited to meditations, poems, hymns, prayers, original retellings of myths, rituals, and scholarly articles with a focus on historical practices within one’s tradition. Artwork is also welcome and encouraged with a preference for pieces that are easily reproduced in black and white.

Multiple submissions by the same author are welcome. Contributors will retain their original copyright of their work. Previously published work is welcome, provided the author retains the original copyright. All work must be original and proper citing in MLA style.

Please provide a small bio about yourself to be included within the anthology. All contributors will be asked to sign a publication release prior to the publication date (estimated May 2015) or their work will not be included in the publication.

The editor (or editors) reserve the right to make minor changes to formatting, spelling, and grammar as necessary. Requests for modifications of submissions may be made as necessary. The editor reserves the right to reject submissions.

Artwork must be 300dpi.

Send all submissions as .doc, .rtf, .odt, or .jpg. Please send all submissions to the editor at NotAWiccan(at)gmail(dot)com.

All contributors will be allowed to buy up to 4 copies at cost of either the ebook or printed publication. There will be no financial compensation provided. All proceeds will go towards building scholarships to pay for those seeking classes and further education involved in death work in our community.

My Lararium Tour

We moved in July, and I have been absolutely hideous about getting things unpacked.  Plus it seems to me that we’ve just recently really been thinking about our living space beyond “OMG, we live here now!!!”

Today I set up my Lararium.  For those of you not familiar with Religio Romana, allow me to explain that this is an altar to the Lares.  Specifically the Lares Familiares, who are the guardians of the family, and Lares Domestici, who are the guardians of the home.  This also serves as a point for the Penates (ancestor/gods/guardians), Hecate (my matron), and a general launch pad of daily worship (offerings, prayers, etc).  I live in a small space; Vesta has a shrine in my kitchen space that I’m working on, and Apollon…  Well, he and I haven’t decided where his shrine is going.

This probably isn’t quite what most practicing Religio do, but I’m still wrapping my brain around the fact that I may very well be practicing Relgio on my own terms.  Honoring my ancestors has always been a large part of my practice.

When I was little, my grandfather built each of the granddaughters a hutch to house our toy china collections.  To this day I marvel over the details.  He went so far as to put notches in to hold up plates.  We moved it into the house thinking we’d store my heirloom stemware in it, but it proved too small.  So it returned to my plan of building a Lararium with it.  It sits in our dining space.

You can also see my first broom.  Amusingly enough, I’ve had it since I was about five.  My mother will tell you that I have always had a “thing” for brooms.  Much like black cats.

Hecate sits among my orchids.  When I finally settle on an idol of Apollon, he will likely go here, too.  What this picture isn’t showing are my printed plate of Kali (also honored in our house) and a large painted leaf with Helios (Sol) and Eos (Aurora) on his chariot with his winged horses.

The main surface space is for my offerings.

Behind the glass doors rest various relics to those who have passed: My grandfather’s pipe and the collars of two pets we said good-bye to.  Also sitting inside is a statue of a deer, which is my spirit animal.  To be included are other pieces that are still tucked away in a box in my studio some where – For instance, my great-grandmother’s crochet hook and another grandfather’s high school class ring.  My photos of them will have to be scanned and made smaller to fit inside.  It’s pretty bare right now, but given time this entire space will be packed, I’m sure, as I include rocks and other pretty things for their enjoyment.

The drawer will hold working tools.  Right now my old ritual blade is housed there along with a bunch of feathers.  Said feathers are being used in my wedding, but I figured they could use a little spiritual bath of sorts.

Underneath I have storage space for extra dishes, candles, herbs, and religious what-have-yous.  Which leads me to believe that I may have the perfect space set up for what I do.

Do you have a picture or blog post about your worshiping space?  I’d love to see it!

Our Friend Mouse

Mouse decided to sleep on my basil starts.

There is a certain art to sharing your home with a geriatric cat. The truth is that it is all too easy to find yourself dreading the what-ifs and whens instead of appreciating the time you have with your companion. Yesterday I spent some time angry with the gods, because they seemed to be delivering the exact opposite of what I’d been praying for – That my beloved Siamese, Mouse, would pass peacefully in his sleep and not have to take the stressful trip to the vet in his final moments. This day, however, has turned into a slightly better outcome I suppose. Mouse will be 20-years-old in July. He has been in my life since I was 9. My fiancé and I took him in when my mother was no longer able to take care of him due to moving, and he has survived two moves of his own with minimal adjustment problems. At 19, he experienced a 5 hour car ride, nearly being overdosed on Valium due to inadequate vet care (I’m saying this as nicely as I can, but I hold a lot of anger and resentment towards the vet in question), and relearned how to master going up and down stairs with stiff hips. He discovered a passion for canned food and mashed potatoes. And he generally gets attention lavished upon him even when he is being an annoying jerk. Granted, age has not been kind to him, and unfortunately I didn’t listen to my intuition telling me to get him into the vet sooner. And, once again, little day-to-day changes tend to not be noticed until it’s too late. Therefore, my gigantic 35-pound snarling, biting watch cat has been reduced to a very frail 4.3-pound cuddle monster that tends to forget to wash his face. We were gone over the weekend to New Orleans. My mother took care of him and Jasper while we were gone, dutifully coming to fuss over them twice a day. Our departure, though, depressed Mouse. One day he came half-way down the stairs to see who came in before going up to his room. After a couple days he simply quit coming downstairs, having given up on us coming home. When we got home on Monday, he was happy to see us. But he’s always been a moody fellow, so on Tuesday when he didn’t hobble down the stairs I didn’t think much of it. Well, that’s not exactly true. I thought he was mad and sulking. Plus some days he simply sleeps all day, so it’s not unusual to have a Mouse-free day downstairs from time-to-time. On more than one occasion, I stopped to wonder where he was but talked myself out of checking on him. I was wrong. 6:30 PM passed, and I finally went upstairs to ask him if he was hungry. He usually starts bugging me for food about 4:30, though daylight saving time isn’t something he really grasps the concept of. When I walked into the room he spends most of his time in, he lifted his head and let out a helpless cry. It was then that I realized something was wrong. I rushed over to discover that our modem cord had dislodged from its space. Somehow Mouse had managed to get himself caught in it. I couldn’t get it off of him, and I couldn’t figure out exactly where it even was on his body – Though I was immediately thankful it wasn’t around his neck. The cord had wrapped tightly around his loose skin in front of his right hip, and somehow it was wrapped under his leg pinning it in an odd position. He was too weak to put up a fight with me when I started trying to get him untangled. He didn’t fight when my fiancé stepped in to attempt the same thing. It didn’t take long for me to decide we needed to cut it off of him, because there was no way to pull it without possibly hurting him. Not knowing exactly where the cord was wrapped made that an even scarier prospect. So the fiancé carefully snipped him out, and the cord that came off of him was completely disfigured and twisted. There were no teeth marks. It’s hard to say how long Mouse was trapped, which has a heavy weight in regards to guilt. He’d wet himself, he was dehydrated, and he was too weak to stand. I gently picked him up and put him by his water so he could drink, which he did, and when he was given his canned food he gobbled it down. Then he started walking, though it was obviously hard for him. He stumbled about and limped. His hip seemed to be sitting in a weird position. But he was putting weight on it, and he wasn’t trying to get away from us fussing over him. Eventually he made his way to the litter box, and with some struggle he used it. I brought my mom over for another pair of eyes to see what was going on. She was surprised to see him doing as well as he was considering what I’d told her over the phone. So the three of us decided we would wait it out and see what happened instead of taking an emergency trip to the vet. Later in the evening he came downstairs. Yesterday came. I stayed at home to watch him. He didn’t go very long with walking before laying down and sleeping. He seemed very uncomfortable. But he was still nibbling on food, drinking water, and urinating. Then our other cat started hovering with me, not going beyond a few feet of Mouse at any given time other than the hour we played fetch together. In the afternoon, I couldn’t take it any longer. I’d gotten online to read about senior cats and started worrying about all the other problems we’d had for years with him – Most starting so long ago that I just thought they were normal. Eventually, I couldn’t take it any longer. He seemed so weak and frail, and he was starting to be a little unresponsive when it came to me petting him. I called the vet and was told to bring him in. Mouse didn’t put up a fight yesterday at all, which is unlike him even in his old age. While I waited for my mother, I went into the bathroom and cried – Afraid that I would upset my precious cat if I got too emotional around him. He’s always been one to come and check on me when I’m crying. I genuinely thought I would not be bringing Mouse home at all, but at the very least I’d not be bringing him home the same day. An hour later, I received the phone call. It was both good news and bad news. First of all, he was sore and probably had pulled a muscle in his hip. But nothing was broken or out-of-place skeletally. This was good. However, the vet was quick to say that Mouse is suffering from kidney failure. It’s to be expected in older animals – Only three weeks ago my mother’s dog was diagnosed with the same problem, though other health issues resulted in having him euthanized not too long after that. The vet said that Mouse will just have to deal with his injury’s pain, because his kidney function is so low he didn’t want to give him any medicine for it. I agreed that was a good idea, because really he wasn’t in extreme pain. Having a pain disorder myself, I’ve got a decent understanding of pain and what it does. But I feel confident in my decision to agree with the vet – By the time we went to pick Mouse up he was moving better than he had in days. What the vet did suggest, though, was to start Sub-Q fluid therapy if we felt comfortable doing it. After discussing it just a little (say about 20 seconds), my fiancé and I decided that we were willing to consider it. While there, I asked the vet to show us how to do it, and I felt a little more comfortable with the idea after seeing how well Mouse reacted to it. Granted, he wasn’t feeling well, and once he gets feeling better it may be a bit more of a fight. We’ll see, though. We will have to give Mouse injections of fluids every other day under his skin. He is decidedly going to be swollen and lumpy from the liquid. I’m obviously terrified of this, but everyone keeps assuring me that we’ll all get used to doing it very quickly. Right now I’m not as worried about the actual poking part but making sure all the tubing is hooked up right. I’m sure as soon as I have it all put together and have the needle in hand, I’ll feel the grip of fear there. The good news is that after 24 hours, the first treatment given by our vet has brought about a lot of changes in our dear friend. He has taken to talking to me again, though his voice isn’t as strong as it used to be. For the first time in I’m not sure how long, he has started to sit back on his rear end instead of letting it hover on the ground. And last night he put up a hissing and spitting protest to Jasper trying to clean him – A good sign that he’s getting his fight back. That’s just the thing… Mouse is not ready to leave his life. Inevitably he will at some point, but today just isn’t the day for it. He’s more interested in sleeping on my basil starts or eating mashed potatoes. And honestly my fiancé and I aren’t willing to have him leave us before it’s time. He’s been in my life since I was 9, after all, and as long as he’s still fighting and coping with his illness I’m willing to help him embrace the journey of his life. I’ve known him long enough to know to understand what he’s telling me. And he’s telling me he’s not done living just yet. Am I worried and scared? Yes. Do I realize that taking care of a special needs cat will probably require more time at home? Yes. But in the last few months, oddly more than any other time in my life, I’ve learned that I’m tough. I can handle this, and when I can’t I have my fiancé to pick up when I need help – That is one of our greatest strengths as a couple, and when it’s needed I do it for him, too. This is our family, after all. Unconventional perhaps, but family all the same. We all love each other, and we all care for each other. So we will do this with dedication and grace. And through all of it I will work my hardest at taking this journey with Mouse as a spiritual path – Practicing the art of living in the present instead of the future or the past. When I look at it that way, at the beginning of the final stretch, I find myself almost thankful that I’ve been given the opportunity to experience not only the unconditional love of a warm soul but also the chance to learn how to enjoy the little things that makes life so truly special.