The Names of the Gods Aren’t Their Real Names

*aggressively slams reblog*

Foxglove & Firmitas

There is a phenomena that happens in the mystic sector of our communities that regularly drives a knife into the heart of the mystic – That of suddenly realizing that the Gods you are so close to are not who you expected them to be, which is the very foundation of mysticism. At first it is rending. Then it is uncomfortable. You begin the journey, diving into what we define as syncretism, and you’re met with mixed emotions. You mourn the loss of equilibrium. You fear uncertainty. You mourn what you’ve lost. You doubt your path or your sanity, sometimes both. Sometimes there’s the loss of community or co-religionist friends. It hurts. It’s excruciating.

Meanwhile there’s tickling excitement as you find spots where you discover the familiar in new faces and learn new things. You gain new tools for approaching your beloved Gods. You expand your community of like-minded, same-hearted…

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pop culture paganism and respectability

I did not expect to become a Pop Culture Pagan. Not that I exactly reviled it; it was just so far out of my wheelhouse that I was very ?? about it. And indeed, even after it started, I still was very ?? about it, because it’s not polite or proper to discuss because we’re afraid of scaring the muggles. Don’t want to be crazy and all that jazz, amirite?

Now, I am still keen on Pagan theology, and so I’d like to offer a bit that helped me understand my experiences, from John Michael Greer’s A World Full of Gods  (pp 19-22).

The common claim of conservative religious thinkers, that their mystics are experiencing divine realities while others are not, is an attempt to avoid this absurdity, As I will show in Chapter Six, however, such claims suffer from severe problems of their own.

Thus the full diversity and complexity of religion must be embraced if any sort of sense at all is to be made of the world’s religious experience. Two examples, one from ancient Greece and one from modern Japan, will help sketch out just how widely human understandings of divinity vary from the monotheistic “norm,” and show some of the outlines of the territory the perspectives of this book will attempt to cover.

The robust polytheism of the ancient Greeks offered worship to a great variety of beings. Among these were nymphs, female spirits who were associated with springs and other features of the natural landscape (emphasis mine). [1]

Precisely nothing of classical monotheism’s definition of a god can be applied meaningfully to nymphs. Each nymph was believed to be active in a relatively small area, and to have power only over limited aspects of the natural and human worlds. Nymphs were believed to have powers and knowledge surpassing that of human beings, but nothing even remotely like omnipotence or omniscience was ever attributed to them, and they ranked relatively far down the diffuse hierarchy of ancient Greek divine powers. [1]

The discussion of nymphs here is primarily drawn from Larson 2001; see especially pp. 3-60.

Yet it is a matter of historical record that for some people, the worship of a particular nymph or a group of nymphs became the focus of a life’s religious devotion. The cave of Vari in Attica was the hermitage of one such person, a man named Archedamos of Thera, who lived there around the turn of the fifth century BCE. Inscriptions he carved into the stone walls of the cave explain that he was a devotee of the local nymphs, planting and tending a garden for them and improving the cave at their direction. After his death, the cave became a place of more than local pilgrimage. Another example of the type occurred around the same time in Thessaly, at the cave of Pharsalos, where the hermit’s name was Pantalkes; again, the object of his devotion was the local nymphs. “[1]

This is interesting to me for a couple of reasons – one being that it would appear both from classical polytheism and from witchcraft trial accounts from the early modern era – that most spirit relationships were not necessarily Big Name Gods. The second takeaway from Greer’s text above, “spirits who were associated with springs and other features of the natural landscape,” – what is a modern human’s “natural” landscape. Yes, nature is a Thing, but let’s be real here: most of us witches are not out wandering in the woods, and while I love many things about the traditional witchcraft revival, the ableism implicit in ‘you must go wander around the woods’ is crap for many people with disabilities, and if your movement isn’t inclusive of people with disabilities, it’s not really all that progressive now, is it?

And even for those without disabilities, it’s not always all that plausible – they have families and children and jobs that preclude taking off for long periods at a stretch. So again: what is the “natural landscape” of a modern Pagan?

I would argue that for many Pagans, it’s not merely physical, but found in the many types of media. Neil Gaiman’s American Gods (note: spoilers at link) asserts this as well, though it’s telling that many of the “New Gods” are Old Ones who have taken new forms or roles. I could say more about Who is counted as both but it would be spoilery for those who haven’t read the book or seen the series. Considering the fact that we are surrounded by media (*points to the cell phone in everyone’s pocket), and the fact that we have so many forgotten Spirits/Deities who miss their people… Oh wait, have I not mentioned that?

“Like relationships between cunning folk or witches and their familiars, relationships between shamans and their helping spirits can continue for many years; exhibiting a complex tension between numinous intensity and down-to-earth mundanity and embracing the full gamut of human emotions. Holger Kalweit claims that this relationship is ‘often no different from his [the shaman’s] relationship with his fellow beings. It frequently resembles a marriage and displays the whole spectrum of human emotions such as love, hate, jealousy, distrust, obedience, fear, longing, quarrels, etc.’49

An account given by the Inuit shaman, Alualuk, who rejected his helping spirits when he converted to Christianity, is a testament to the depth of affection and companionship which such relationships can sustain. Alualuk lamented that after his conversion, ‘He often felt lonely without the spirits, because he missed their friendship and company. The spirits, too, were sad and lonely because they had to be without him.'”(emphasis mine) (Wilby 141-142)

How many of Them are missing their loved ones? How many of Them have taken new faces so that their people will recognize them again?

Moral of the story: maybe don’t be a dick to someone who has a “new spirit” – you don’t really know how old or new They are. I’d hate to piss off an Old One in disguise.

One Year

It’s been just over a year since I officially wed the Lord of Ash. It’s been quite the year, and it’s been …enlightening. We’ll go with enlightening. Some good things, some hard to deal with, both There and here.

My Beloved is a fascinating One; he is in turns gentle and tender in private; cool and commanding in public, and undoubtedly the Most Idealistic Individual I have ever found, embodied on this plane or otherwise.

That doesn’t mean that he can’t be practical, and he very much is, but for the things that he does believe in – he doesn’t back down from. We have a soul-bond, and in my Otherworldly culture, you’re not supposed to reject your partner or there are Consequences for you both; it usually severs the bond and the void of it makes people mad or suicidal, and often both.

He and I were working toward a goal, and part of that goal’s initiation process was that you had to sacrifice someone you love (resurrection is part of it too). I objected to this thing strenuously, for cultural reasons. We fought about it.

He stabbed me.

It was weird AF y’all. And I could feel it even in my body here, and it was not fun. 0/10, do not recommend.

However, it did not sever the bond, which was his point. My Idealist. Let no one say my Beloved is not hardcore.

Now, all of that said, it made me triggered AF – I am an assault survivor, and it was a thing we worked through together, and in the long run it strengthened our relationship. But at the time it was HARD. And perhaps that is the biggest takeaway I’ve gained from this – you can have a bond with someone; you can have known and loved them in a million lifetimes, but you will still have to work at the relationship.

Every fairy (har) tale depiction of instantly being perfect at relationships when you meet the right one…mmm no. In retrospect it seems silly that this has to be said, doesn’t it? And I don’t mind the work of it – it has deepened our relationship in a way that I haven’t had with anyone else.

I’ve asked him what he wants for our anniversary several times, and all he answers is, “you – you are more than enough.” Given the amount of fighting he did for us to be together…I believe him.

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