The New Practical Polytheist is Coming Soon!

The New Practical Polytheist is Coming Soon!

Holiday greetings to all my readers of this blog. This post is just to let you all know that the Practical Polytheist will eventually be continuing, but in a different form. This site will no longer be a blog, per se, but may have a blog included. Possibly. But this site will no longer be part of the wordpress.com community of blogs.

I wish you all well this holiday season and hope you will pop in now and then to visit the new Practical Polytheist Website coming soon!

This blog is now closed.

This blog is now closed to new postings. I will be taking a break to spend time working on much needed career and home projects, plus taking time to have a retreat with my Gods, Ancestors, and my other Beneficent Spirits.

There may come a time in the future where I may do a different blog, here or elsewhere, or perhaps write in another venue. Until that time, I will be leaving these blog postings up for you to read and use. Meanwhile, you can contact me at ariel at practicalpolytheist dot com.

My encounter with Hanuman: We are all primates, after all

defenseDuring PantheaCon I attended Hrafnar’s oracular Seiðr.  I was the first to ask my question, one about my home and loved ones. And it was well answered. As the session continued on as others asked their questions and received their answers, as I sat there, I began to smell whiffs of curry. I thought it was coming from one of the nearby restaurants, or perhaps someone in the room. However, the scent persisted for hours after I left the Seiðr. I asked others if they could smell it. They could not. Still, the scent persisted after I got back to my room. I took my clothes off to shower. Although I did not myself smell like curry, my clothes did, as if I had been enveloped in an Indian cooking festival!

I reported this to Hrafnar’s members and leaders. Although a couple of people not in Hrafnar theorized that I was encountering Kali, that just didn’t seem right to me. I did feel a presence, but a male one, not a female one. Diana Paxson suggested that I light a candle and ask if the presence had any messages that were for me. When I got home the scent had disappeared, but I lit a candle and entered meditation anyway. In a few moments, in my mind, I saw an Indian Temple filled with thousands of monkeys everywhere, all different kinds, sizes, and colors, eating food from gold plates on the floor, swinging from tapestries and the building’s architectural details, interacting with each other in both silence and raucousness.

I am not Hindu. But my vision was sort of obvious. I took a guess and asked, “Is this a message from Hanuman?”

“Yes,” came an answer in an almost amused and friendly tone.

“What message do you have for me?”

“Don’t blame humans for being human. We are all primates, after all.”

Hanuman had just given me a very valuable message. When I went to PantheaCon, I was very troubled over the online bickering and the questionable, to me, ethics, I was experiencing in the Polytheist as well as the larger Pagan community. In fact, I was pretty down the whole time I was there, with only flashes of enjoying my time which I emphasized in another post. I was trying to stay positive until I could work through my thoughts and feelings, so did not at first mention it much here. After Hanuman’s message, though, I realized that these behaviors, that were troubling me, are engaged in by other groups of primates: posturing, power mongering, bickering. It is part of who we are as humans, as primates. The important thing to do, I realized, is for each of us to stay safe from those of us who would bully and manipulate us.

I created this blog originally because I wanted to say important things that I felt other Pagans were not saying. And I feel strongly that I’ve now said what I needed to say. I had hoped to write more about my prayer beads and prayer book. And there are other things I’d like to say, that I think some of you might find useful, but are not urgent. And I need a break, a personal retreat with my Gods, Ancestors and Beneficent Spirits. So, I will wait for a better time to write any more.

I admit that I have been a naïve fool to think that the revival of Polytheism would bring changes such that all of us would start being kinder and more thoughtful to each other. Perhaps the early Christians experienced the same naiveté when they thought their religion would change the world into goodness and peace. And we see where that led us for the past two thousand years: the horrible persecutions and Inquisition, the witch burnings, the conflict in Northern Ireland and Sarajevo, the crimes the Church has committed for two thousand years in the name of their God, not to mention the crimes committed and shielded behind closed doors such as the current scandal of silence surrounding so many children, over the years, molested by their Priests.

Although I have experienced the infighting and manipulation in Neopaganism since the 1980’s I kept telling myself that things would get better for us. Well they haven’t, of course. My recent experiences here on the internet observing the nastiness of those on all sides of various discussions, the most recent being that between the Polytheists and other Pagans, has been heartbreaking to me. It has made me want to avoid the blogging scene altogether and almost kept me away from PantheaCon this year.  That Teo Bishop left apparently because he thought Christianity is actually any better, that he said we Pagans do not care about others like Christians do, has been beyond sad.

And now we are experiencing our own scandal of those taking advantage of and using children. Worse was that the adults did not listen to the children speaking out.

So before leaving my blog, I wanted to leave one last post to all of you because I think it is necessary. Some of us — and I am one of us — have not taken enough care, have not been wary enough, have not worked hard enough, at keeping ourselves and loved ones safe from predators within our own religion.

So, here in this final post, I would like to remind you all that religions are the perfect places for sociopaths to hide. Kind and good people are often trusting; and this environment is enormously attractive for abusive and manipulative people to take advantage of others. Never ever forget that Polytheism, unfortunately, will not be able to automatically be shielded from such predators.

To that end I would like to share two things. First I am urging you to read (or re-read if you have already read it) Isaac Bonewits’ famous ABCDEF: “The Advanced Bonewits’ Cult Danger Evaluation Frame.” This document is a wonderful way to evaluate any group of worshippers before joining a group.

However, we can still belong to a good group of people but not be aware of the one — or several — sociopath(s) in our midst. So I think, at the present time, Bonewitz ABCDF does not goes far enough for NeoPagans and Polytheists.   So, I also urge you to read The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout or another book, of your choice, on that topic.

Stout paints a chilling description of the sociopath and the damage such a person leaves in his or her wake. How do you recognize such a person? Stout says that sociopaths are actually usually very charming, often attractive, intelligent, accomplished, and/or admired in their respective fields, and

very difficult to discern.

…”How can I tell whom not to trust?” the answer I give usually surprises people. The natural expectation is that I will describe some sinister-sounding detail of behavior or snippet of body language or threatening use of language that is the subtle giveaway. Instead, I take people aback by assuring them that the tip-off is none of these things, for none of these things is reliably present. Rather, the best clue is, of all things, the pity play. The most reliable sign, the most universal behavior of unscrupulous people is not directed, as one might imagine, at our fearfulness. It is, perversely, an appeal to our sympathy….When deciding whom to trust, bear in mind that the combination of consistently bad or egregiously inadequate behavior with frequent plays for your pity is as close to a warning mark on a conscienceless person’s forehead as you will ever be given. A person whose behavior includes both of these features is not necessarily a mass murderer, or even violent at all, but is still probably not someone you should closely befriend, take on as your business partner, ask to take care of your children, or marry.(Stout Ph.D., Martha (2005-02-08). The Sociopath Next Door (p. 108, 109). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. )

The thing I like most about Stout’s book is that not only does she give vivid descriptions of various characteristics and behavior of sociopaths, she also tells you how to deal with such people.  And as someone who had experienced relationships with sociopaths, I think she gives excellent advice. Her advice is on pages 155 to 162. To summarize the first eleven ways to deal with sociopaths:

1) Accept that some people really do have no conscience.

2) Go with your instincts, even if the person you are dealing with seems to be a leader or even viewed as a “good person” in their social or career circles.

3) Practice the “Rule of Threes.” If someone breaks their promises or abrogates their responsibilities to you or others three or more times, do not be close to or trust them.

4) Question authority.

5) Suspect flattery.

6) If you must, redefine your concept of respect.

7) Do not join in the sociopath’s game of intrigue.

8) Once you figure out someone is a sociopath, avoid them entirely.

9) Do not pity too easily; and reserve your pity for innocent people.

10) Accept that some people cannot be redeemed, no matter how much you may want to redeem them.

11) Never agree to help a sociopath to conceal his or her true character, for any reason.

There are two more more pieces of advice she gives; but I leave that for you to discover from the book itself. I highly recommend Stout’s book.

I hope these words may prove helpful to you, should you ever need them.

And I wish you peace, joy, and safety on your spiritual path.

 

How to Make a Polytheist Prayer Book Step 14, 15, and Conclusion

prayerbookem

Prayer book format choices!

So, now you have made your notes and written some prayers in your working notebook. You have given some thought to when and where you will say your prayers and what kind of book you will use for your prayer book.

Step 14

At this point, make a chart or list of  your definite plans for a regular devotional practice, whatever that means to you. For myself, I am working up to five devotionals a day since my main pantheon is Indo-Iranian. And the Parsi (Persian Zoroastrians ) claim their practice is pre-Islamic and Persian.

Personally, I can imagine a semi-nomadic people like the Indo-Iranians whose worship was integrated into nature and thus interwoven with the cycles of time, including the times of the day. I worked very briefly on my ex-husband’s family’s dairy and could very easily see how the times of the day were integral to raising and caring for cattle. And in a society where cows were not fenced in like they are today, and where having one’s cattle be stolen was a constant threat, and where the Gods are entreated to support the keeping of cattle, I can easily see how a pious Indo-Iranian may find it helpful to structure his or her life including prayers or devotions five times a day. I can imagine how a seasonal calendar would have been kept for bringing the community together for a semi nomadic lifestyle marking the seasons for moving to various locals for grazing, for example.

What exactly that means for myself I am not yet sure. Since I have no way of knowing what the ancient Indo-Iranians really actually did for their devotionals, indeed, I am not even sure they did do them five times a day, I will have to build a devotional practice on my own researches and reconstruction, as well as what works best for myself regarding my own circumstances and lifestyle.

However, I also recognize that my life is very different from my ancestors.  And I, personally, keep no cattle and am very well settled in one place. So, this is very much an experiment for me. And, at this point, I do not know how it will end up!

But that’s okay. Like my ancient nomadic ancestors my life is a journey and an adventure. And, for me, there is no better way to live my life!

Again, we must all start somewhere. So I urge you to start in a place that you think would be interesting, inspiring and exciting to try out, keeping in mind that you may need or want to modify your devotional practice as you go along.

For example, I will share with you what I have learned form my own practice so far. One thing my experiment taught me when I worked up to praying three times a day, was that saying brief prayers so often actually made it much easier to work on daily routine and mundane tasks which I often have a very hard time getting started on each day. It was a nice sort of punctuation throughout the day. I did not feel as anxious about what I should and should not be doing in my daily life, with regards to devotions, nor mundane daily tasks, nor even unexpected things that may come up during the day. Surprisingly, it was actually much easier to compartmentalized my life in such a way that I was not always worried about what I should and should not be doing.

As far as my own personality goes, I tend to like lots of variety. So likely my devotions may be different at different times as well. For example, I am not a morning person (although cattle keeping people certainly are!), so a simple quick devotional works best for me in the morning. I love praying on prayer beads so one prayer bead cycle a day seems best. Again, I slow down pretty quickly at night, so a quick devotional in the evening is best as well. Longer meditations and payers are best be said at other times or even weekly. And I do like to do my devotionals while walking since years ago I learned Buddhist “walking meditation,” finding it very lovely and helpful. Although I was not raised religiously, Sunday was always a quiet day for me. Sunday is dedicated to the Sun, a major deity for both Indo-Iranian and Heathen pantheons. So, Sunday has always worked well as a special day for longer prayers and study for me and is pretty easy to arrange that way, fitting in well within my society’s dominant religion.

So, what works best for you?  Will you base your devotional schedule (or non-schedule!) on what you think your ancestors might have done? Will you make it a totally new practice based on your own scheduling needs and desires? Or perhaps you will work out a combination?

What will you do for holy days or seasonally? And how will you structure your prayer book to reflect this? Make a list of these in your working notebook as well.

In your working notebook, begin to list times and days you will use your prayers. Do not expect this list to be perfect now, or maybe even ever. Change is an inevitable part of life. And even if you aren’t reconstructing any ancient practice, as we are creating a practice for modern use, your practice likely will be ever changing at least in the sense that you may acquire new information through scholarly and archaeological resources which may alter what you wish to do in the future.

Step 15

At some point your notes will begin to suggest to you the kind of format to use for your regular long term — or perhaps I should say, longer term — prayer book. Now look  around for and acquire, or make, such a book for yourself.

myprayerbook

My prayer book choice

Here is what I chose: a hand made commercial journal offered through Renaissance Arts. Though designed and made for children and young people, this journal is perfect for my use in that I could order a version in three sections. The first section is for my Indo-Iranian prayers, the second for my Heathen prayers, and the third can contain prayers for other additional deities and pantheons I occasionally worship. The sections can be removed which makes it much easier for me to write in my book neatly as well as replace them as my needs change.

prayerbookd

My prayer book is on the left; refills are on the right. And the lovely cloth case in which the refills come is pictured underneath the refills and can be used to carry my prayerbook.

I am also choosing a much smaller book for travel or to take with me when out an about, and which will be necessary for praying five times a day.  I have several choices of small notebooks or will perhaps bind my own. I would like to make a cover for the book with a tie of some sort, much like the cloth envelope of my main prayer book.

smallbooks

Different possibilities for my small portable prayerbook

I am also showing you a small book of prayers I currently carry which I acquired from the Vedanta Society. It has prayers based on the Vedas which I find, generally, to be in the spirit of the parts of the Rig Veda I use for my own worship. This little book is about two and a half by four inches (six and a half by ten centimeters). The other little book is slightly smaller and thinner and is a devotional put out by the ADF Order of the Crane containing prayers and published through lulu.com.  This size of prayer book is very easy to carry in a wallet or pocket. If you wished to share your prayer book as the Order of the Crane has, you could publish the book through lulu or, as in a larger format through amazon.com as Hester Butler-Ehle has!

devotional

A couple of commercial prayer and devotional booklets

Conclusion

Finally, pay particular attention to any thoughts, feelings or messages you recieve of inspiration from you Deity or Spirit of inspiration. If you feel that your prayers for inspiration have not been answered after a period of time, say a few weeks to a few months, try making a few more heartfelt offerings. If there is still no connection, you may have to choose a new Deity or Spirit of inspiration. Whatever you do, do not give up.

I hope you have enjoyed learning how to make your own prayer book and that you have tried praying this way. I hope these steps have helped you by saving you some time and effort, that you have learned more about yourself, and that these words have helped you to determine whether or not this form of devotion is right for you. Please feel free to add anything you have learned to the comments below or make a post on your own blog of ways you have used these ideas to develop your own prayer book and devotional practice.

Although I will not be continuing this particular blog as it is now, I will be leaving these posts up for months to follow. Perhaps, if there is enough interest, I will overhaul this blog or create a separate blog focusing on related matters including how my own prayer book evolves and what I learn going forward. If I do, I will do my best to post a pointer to such future information.

Again, I wish you well on your journey and wish you many blessings.

 

How to Worship the Deities, Ancestors, and Beneficent Spirits, Part 2

Morris

So, how do you worship the Gods? Obviously, the exhortation to “do the work” is effective for those who experience a relationship with a specific God or Gods as a practice akin to being a master athlete, musician or craftsman. For that person, perhaps, the “work” of worship might very well be a discipline. For example, if one meditates, one can become better at listening to the deities. That is true. And yes, such a practice can be called “the work.” But maybe that isn’t the kind of person you are.

Now, if your desire is for an ecstatic union with a God, I am told that such a union is something for which you must “work.” If that is what you want, you will need to read the writings of others besides myself — the ones telling you over and over to “do the work,” because that is not a goal I have ever desired for myself. However, I do acknowledge that others do desire such union which is their valid spiritual path. But, personally, I do not wish to be a slave to a god, owned by a god, bride of a god, or, even, a servant of a god. I prefer to be a free person to being a thrall.

And I do not at all believe that ecstatic union with a Deity is the only, or even the best, option for all Polytheists. In fact, I do know from my own experience that more one focuses on a Deity, the more of ones time, energy, wealth, and work one give Him or Her, the more one is likely to fall into one of the kinds of relationships I have just mentioned. And I know from experience, as well as mythology, that the Gods can be extremely charming, even seductive. And you could find yourself in that kind of relationship whether you want it or not, especially when dealing with certain Deities, especially if they choose you.

That is why I’m advising you not to make offerings every day to one or more Gods unless you are very sure you want to attract a great deal of attention from Deities.

The alternative that I recommend, and is what I try to do, and what evidence shows that many of our ancestors did: focus your worship on the Land and House Spirits and Ancestors primarily, the Gods secondarily. But, most importantly, you have to decide what works best for you. Just as with friends and family, how much you stay in contact does impact the your relationships. So, how often do you want to worship and whom? Will you worship a specific God or Gods or Pantheon? Will you focus on deities or ancestors or nature spirits or other beneficent spirits?

Here is what one polytheist who worships a Norse pantheon has to say:

The ordinary Scandinavian of the Viking Age would probably go to the land-wights often, as to a neighbor, to the god/esses on feast-days, and in times of need or thankfulness, as to a chieftain (and much more often when a close friendship existed, in both cases); the Earth herself would be addressed rarely, if at all, just as the plain farmer or merchant would only on rare occasions deal directly with a kind or queen…. (K.H. Gundarssson, “Mother Earth and her Children” Idunna 36) ….daily or near daily offerings were made to the landwights and ancestors whereas only to the Gods during feast-days and in times of need or thankfulness or more often when a close friendship between a god and a human being. (Elves, Wights, and Trolls by Kveldulf Gundarsson, 2007).

Note that Gundarsson speaks of making offerings to beneficent spirits as a way of establishing and keeping up such relationships. And if you want to maintain relationships with beneficent spirits, you must acknowledge them, at least, and honor them as often as you can.
So if making offerings is specifically how we honor and worship the beneficent spirits, how does one make offerings and how often? How often and how much is strictly up to you. You get out of a relationship what you put into it. But keep in mind that burning out because you are doing too much is just as damaging as doing so little that you have no relationship at all. Also, think about what happens when you give someone too much attention. A relationship can become smothering. Some space apart is healthy for many beings.

That said, I want to address the issue of not connecting with the Deities, Ancestors and other Beneficent spirits because you are too busy or think doing other things is more fun. Unlike others who have written on this subject, I am not going to tell you just to “suck it up” and get on with the work.

On the contrary, if you are having any resistance to honoring your Gods, Ancestors, and other Beneficent Spirits on a regular basis, this is a very important signal that I advise you not to ignore. If you do not want to make offerings and prayers to the beneficent deities, ask yourself why? Is this really the right path for you? If it isn’t, you might want to take time to carefully think about the path you are taking and the consequences of your actions or inactions to yourself and those around you.

However, sometimes we want very much to do something; then we don’t do it. This is called “resistance.” Resistance is actually a survival instinct for humans. And beating yourself up — and letting someone else heap guilt on you over it, will not help you to become better at anything at all, not in the long term. And, in fact, you might wind up hating whatever you are trying to do such that you never do it again. You see, the survival part of your brain does not want you to do something strange or unusual because that thing might be perceived instinctually as a threat to your survival. Those who are experts in psychology have studied resistance. And some have written about it. For example, the “Queen of Resistance” is a woman named Barbara Sher. Sher has written many books and has many materials for overcoming resistance. I, myself, have used those tools for over three decades with great results.

One of Sher’s best and most straightforward techniques is to simply spend a set time each day doing something, let’s say in this case: ten minutes doing devotions to your beneficent guardian spirits, whomever they might be. For some, this works wonderfully but for others, maybe even most, this may not work so well, and Sher tells you this.

So, let’s say in this case, you get up in the morning all ready to say your prayers and offer a stick of incense, and then, suddenly, you just don’t feel like it. You make up an excuse to do something else. You do something else. Then you get distracted by email. The you go off to work. And soon you’re eating lunch. And before you know it it is dinner time. Then you think, “oh well, it’s too late now. Just forget it. I will try again tomorrow.”

But the next day comes and the same thing happens. You still don’t do your devotions. And the next day, the same. If this sounds like you (and I know it has been me!), why are you doing that? Is it that you do not know what to say or don’t know what to offer?

In that case, sit down for ten minutes a day and write down things you might say to the deities or spirits. Do research on your God or beneficent spirit and find out what he or she likes as an offering. Spend another ten minutes the next day planning how you will get the offering and write or find a prayer until you are ready to spend the ten minutes on the devotion. If you cannot offer the flowers, or sweets, or libations for whatever reason, offer a stick of incense. If you cannot do that, offer the light of a candle or electric candle.

Can’t afford the ten minutes? Is it too much? How about five minutes? No? Then two minutes. Still too much?

Then say aloud and with conviction, “I don’t want to do this! I will not do this! I will not worship any of these beings! I refuse!” Seriously.

Everyday you balk, for whatever reason, at worshiping or connecting with the deities, ancestors, or nature sprits, say out loud that you will not do your devotions! At some point, I promise you, you will stop saying it (you might even burst out laughing at how silly all this resistance is) and start doing the worship. Just try it. And don’t believe me. Try it for yourself and feel free to read more techniques that Barbara Sher has come up with in this book which is free online here. (By the way, to my knowledge, Sher is not religious. But her techniques apply to anything you want to accomplish.)

Then, after you do devotions for a while, your life will change in wonderful ways, as mine did and others have, and you won’t want to live any other way. You will start missing your Gods, ancestors and the land spirits when you have spent too much time away from them, just as you would miss your human family and friends.

So, now, how do you get ideas for devotions? And what really is a devotion?

And what if standing each day at a shrine and saying a prayer and offering a stick of incense is just not working for you?

There are plenty of books and help for learning to do devotions. For me, having an anchor of some sort, especially if I am only half awake in the morning is the best thing. So I plan and use, for my anchor, a payer book. If you go here in my blog you can start to learn how to make your own. But will this work for you? Only you can say. Perhaps you like spontaneous prayer and offerings. Perhaps all you need to do is set aside a time every day to do something spontaneous or even just put it on your “to do list” each day and check off your devotions whenever you go out and do that spontaneous thing. You can even combine your devotion with another activity, such as a daily walk or a craft that you dedicate to your pantheon. Perhaps, for example, you have dedicated yourself to making the best rune sets for others to use. Or perhaps you love to sing compose and are determined to build a body of hymns for your deities. Doing those things each day can be your devotion, your offering.

What is important is to do a little often. You will accomplish far more than you can imagine that way. Try it. You will see. Even if it is only two minutes a day.
I like how this Polytheist Organization defines devotion here:

The Fellowship promotes the giving of offering to the Powers guiding its individual members and communities of members as its highest expression of worship. The Fellowship asserts that the offering of art, song, praise, labor, and other gifts of value—even aesthetic value—are sufficient as expressions of hospitality towards the Powers. (http://fodla.org/vision.pdf — emphasis mine).

What has happened to me, sometimes, though, and I have seen it happen to others, is that soon devotions become work, drudgery, boring, uninspired, mechanical. As one Pagan at Pantheacon put it “daily practice sucks.” Should I drag myself through doing such devotions anyway?

Well, for me personally, if my daily practice sucks, I just don’t do it. And I don’t apologize for that. Nor do I think I am wrong in that. If my relationship with a human, for example, has started to “suck,” I don’t continue to maintain that relationship as is, but instead see it as a signal that something is wrong and needs to be changed. I see that I have become embedded in a dysfunctional or stagnate relationship. And getting stuck means no growth. Then, I would ask myself, “what’s gone wrong? And how can I make it better?” In a human relationship, for example, I find that if I don’t change things, both the other person and myself become unhappy and stop growing.

So, in a devotional situation, I might try some of the things that I would try in a human relationship. Maybe my Deity doesn’t want to hear the same exact prayer every day. Maybe what I am offering could be better. Maybe if I have been offering a libation of grape juice each month to the Nature Spirits of my land, they would prefer porridge, or corn meal, or tobacco. Or maybe a variety. Maybe I could inspire and stretch myself by writing or finding new prayers, or song, or a dance or an art work, or by planting a tree or cleaning up a local park. Maybe I have been asking the Ancestors for things but neglecting to give them a good feast of things they like to eat. And let’s say I happen to love to cook or bake. Why not exercise my love and talent in cooking for Them! That’s an idea!

I know that in my own culture we have a mistaken belief that we cannot and should not enjoy ourselves, that unless we suffer, we are not really doing serious “work” for someone or something. But enjoying what we do, usually actually points to our actual talent, or, as Barbara Sher says, our actual unique “genius” with which we were born. And while her books and writings are not religious, I reason this way: if we are each born with a unique genius, the Gods made, or at least rejoice in that we have evolved this way. And it is our talents, the genius, they want us to use. What greater gift could we possibly give to them? When we see a flower, we do not strip the leaves and put that up as a bouquet. We pick the flower and put it in a vase and love it. We love what is most beautiful about the plant.

So, if your hobby is baking cupcakes for example, think if how happy your human friends are when you share them a gorgeous delicious decorated cupcake of your own recipe instead of forcing yourself to do something for them that makes you miserable? Anyone who loves you would rather not see you miserable but happy. And, hey, your cupcakes are the best! Maybe it is time to offer the Ancestors, Deities, or Nature Spirits one of your stunning cupcakes instead of droning on and on a prayer that just bores and exhausts you — and probably them!

But suppose you’ve done all kinds of devotions for months or even a year or two and you still end up feeling empty and exhausted. Is it possible to do all those sincere devotions and not feel any connection to the beneficent spirits you are worshipping?

Yes. It has happened to some people. And it has happened to me. It happens when one is worshipping the wrong God or gods or ancestors for them. Just like you “hit it off” with some people, you will hit it off with various Gods and spirits as well. The saddest thing I have ever seen is when someone works so hard to give offerings, devotions and prayers to Gods only to conclude that those Gods do not even exist. I have known people who have devoted years, regularly worshipping, even on a daily basis, not to have those particular Gods reciprocate at all. If that happens to you, I ask you to please stop worshipping them now. Yes, sometimes it takes awhile to get their attention, and maybe that is what is happening here. But if you are being sincere and doing your best and you get little to no response, stop and find other Gods, ancestors and/or beneficent spirits. There are at least thousands to choose from.

How can you tell if a Spiritual Being is responding? Usually it will be pretty clear if you keep yourself open. Little (or sometimes big) serendipitous things will happen — you will start seeing the deities’ symbol or color everywhere; someone will start, seemingly out of the blue, telling you about a story they read that is your Deities’ myth; some boon you have asked for will be granted in the most unexpected way; or you will be in a bad situation and suddenly you will see in your mind your deity and gain strength and perhaps a flash of insight on how to solve your problem. And you will solve it! Maybe you will have a vivid and lucid dream. That has happened unexpectedly to me on several occasions (and I do not deliberately practice lucid dreaming, so such dreams, for me, are even more surprising).

But if you go for months and nothing like this happens — or worse, when you do your devotions you get the distinct feeling of indifference, it may not be that the Being does not exist, but merely that 1) He or She wants to see how sincere you are first, or 2) doesn’t warm up to you and you not to Him or 3) He or She knows that that another deity is interested in you or already following you around — that another Deity was there first, so to speak

For example, it is not uncommon for a Deity to choose a devotee. So let’s say Athene has already chosen you and knows you and She would have a good reciprocal relationship (She is, after all, a Goddess and knows much more than any of us do). But you are not really aware of Her consciously and focus worship on Thor instead. I think the gods are very wise and know more than we do. I think it is possible that Thor might know that Athena is about and so He steps aside so you can get to know Athena better. This is completely my Unverified Personal Gnosis, but it definitely fits in with my experience over the decades.

I can give you an example directly from my own personal experience. I originally was completely convinced that I was meant to worship a Celtic pantheon because I felt drawn to my Cornish and Welsh background. Even my German Grandmother came from an area of Germany which had been largely Celtic originally. Thus I focused my worship on Celtic Deities for many years, first in Wicca because I was told that Celtic worship was Wiccan. But Wicca just did not fit well with me at all; and I saw many things about it that were not Celtic. Eventually, I found myself in Celtic Druidry, but that didn’t work either. So then I started taking a look at Celtic Reconstructionism. But try as hard as I might, Celtic Pantheons just left me completely cold. I felt nothing for Celtic Gods, languages, culture or mythology. None of those Gods spoke to me at all, even though I tried praying, talking, and devoting my practice to them.

Then, while working within Druidry researching the ancient Celts and I wound up gravitating and having experiences with the mythology and deities of Persian, and Vedic pantheons. Moreover, when trying to learn the Oghams someone suggested I learn something about the runes as well. That is when I found myself having relationships with, not the Celtic but the Germanic Deities. And the Oghams lost all interest for me.

Although I do not believe anyone has to be of a particular ethnicity to be called by the Gods of a particular culture, I do believe our ancestors call us. I had long been estranged from parts of my family that were notably Celtic. What was interesting, was that when I took a series of DNA tests, I learned that the ancestry I had actually inherited, which I had never been told about, included Iranian and Orcadian (which is largely Norse)! What a big surprise!

So, don’t be too sure that who you choose to worship will be the ones you will end up worshipping and having relationships with. Give yourself time and be patient with yourself. If your devotions are not being reciprocated with a close feelings to those you worship, try asking for guidance and try worshipping other Beings to whom you have felt drawn for reasons unknown. Sometimes we find ourselves in a kind of unconscious stubborn denial before we find our way, as I did.

I hope these posts were helpful to you in your search for how to worship the Deities and beneficent spirits. I hope these ideas will help you set yourself on a spiritual path that fits both you and your Gods. Again, if anyone tells you to worship the Gods in a way that doesn’t feel right to you, pay attention to that signal. Keep exploring and learning until you find yourself on the right path for you and your Gods.

Doing the Work? How to Worship the Gods, Part 1

shipToday I want to begin a couple of posts of the most urgency among Polytheists: How to learn how you, personally, the reader, can worship the Gods in a way that works for you and your Gods. How do you “do the work?”

Should you even “do the work?”

Many of you are aware of what I am talking about. We’ve all heard it, haven’t we? In order to worship the Gods, “we must do the work.” But we don’t seem to want to do that. It seems like too much work. It is too hard, maybe too confusing, maybe too overwhelming. There are more fun things to do, right?

So, some of us who have written books and blogs and teach classes have become even more adamant, even dictatorial. “Do the work!” they say. But for some reason, what they are saying just isn’t motivating or helping us to “do the work,” is it?

So, why not?

One thing that I realized after attending Pantheacon 2014 during which I spoke with teachers, presenters, writers, and elected and accomplished leaders of ten, twenty, and thirty years, is that very few even realize that what they were saying regarding “doing the work” did not always make sense to others, was often contradictory, and was not helpful to more than a few people. In other words, they couldn’t tell the rest of us how to worship because they themselves did not know. All they knew was that certain ways of worship worked for them and a few students they had, the few students who stuck with them. And that is all they could share with us.

Thus, I believe very strongly that no one, at the present time, in any way, can tell anyone else in a definitive way how to worship the Gods, ancestors, and other beneficent spirits. And that includes me: I cannot tell you how to worship.

I can, though, through my own experience, point you in the direction so that you can define for yourself what the correct worship is for you. I can help you to find your own way.

Let’s take some facts into account. Firstly, there are (at least) thousands of Gods (some even say an infinite number) each with their own likes, dislikes, personalities, and agendas. So, very importantly, how you worship depends on who you worship.

Secondly, our current knowledge of how to worship many Gods, as opposed to one, is based on, quite literally, fragments of documents and material culture that were able to survive, to the present time, atrocious violent and psychological persecutions against Polytheists. Often these documentary and archaeological fragments are reflected through lenses of academic, monotheistic, sociological, cultural, racist, and economic biases. And we have seen over and over again, academic scholarship and monotheisms pass through fads, often rendering the ideas, beliefs, and conclusions of just a few years ago embarrassingly shortsighted, or at least unworkable in present times.

Now quite a few Polytheist bloggers seem to be saying we must “do the work” — whatever that is — because it is “required.” I know I am not the only one who finds such an autocratic statement to be a bit opaque. What does that mean, “do the work?” Why is it required? And, most importantly, is “the work” really “required?”

Firstly, ask yourself this most important question: why do you want to worship the Gods?

This is an essential question. And there could be any one or several answers, depending on the worshiper. Do you want a better life for yourself and your loved ones? Do you have a specific purpose in your life that you hope your religion will fulfill? Do you want someone else to make the decisions for you? Do you want power over your own life — or other the lives of others? Is your religion an escape; and if so, from what?

I don’t mean to sound contentious here. We all have our own reasons for approaching the Gods, and not all of them are idealistic. Most of the reasons I’ve seen, in my opinion, are basically selfish. We think the Gods can do something for us. They are, after all, Gods.

Originally I worshipped the Gods because I was hoping for an escape from poverty. I was raised in a poor area surrounded by even poorer areas. As a child, our nuclear family was usually below the poverty line. Since I was not raised in any sort of rigid religion and my parents did not in any way have me named, dedicated, or baptised into a religion (I did not even know what a Christian was until I was eight years old!), I decided at an early age to choose my own religion. Since my deceased father had been a Unitarian I was allowed, if not encouraged, to choose. I was unusually lucky in that way.

So, at age seven, when enamored of Greek mythology, I decided I wanted to choose worshipping the Gods. Though I was told by my family and those around me (this was the early 1960’s) that such a religion was not possible today, because “no one does that anymore,” I could not stop myself from romanticizing ancient times when many Gods were worshipped. Every time I read a novel or story written for young people about the Gods and ancient times in various cultures and geographic areas, I would daydream that I lived among those people and worshipped the Gods too!

When I grew up, I discovered (like some of my generation who had interest in such things) Wicca. Wicca was called the “Old Religion” and which was often claimed to be continued from ancient times by those who had secretly and continuously practiced paganism and had only been, at most, nominally Christian; so I was told. Reading the few books and periodicals on Wicca, and being poor, I began to practice money spells.

And they worked.

Then, one time, I needed a substantial amount of money. I forget for what now (I was never good at keeping a “book of shadows”), but probably my car needed repairs and probably I wanted to find a better job since I was usually dismally unhappy in the minimum wage jobs young women were usually relegated at that time: dull and boring servitude.

By this time I was already experiencing the Deities not as aspects of “The God and Goddess,” but as individual beings with their own independent thoughts, ideas, agendas, motivations, and personalities. But I still thought of them as “thought forms” because that was what I had been taught by Neopagan leaders writing books or calling themselves Priests and Priestesses at the time. And I was also basically agnostic because I was not convinced that my experiences of the Gods were anything more than my own imagination. At a few points in my life, I actually called myself an Atheist.

Well, needing money pretty badly, I decided to do a ritual calling on Zeus to help me. I chose Zeus because I reasoned he was metaphor of a great and mighty king of Gods with power and wealth. But instead of doing a ritual where I “used” or “worked with” the “God aspect of Zeus,” I decided to try something different.

Of course, it never ever occurred to me to make a sacrifice. The word “sacrifice” was to me, like so many people in my culture, a negative word meaning to participate in servitude and hardship to give up something up to God. Like most people raised within our Monotheist culture, I saw sacrifice as archaic and unnecessary. What does a mighty God need from me, I reasoned? He already had anything and everything he could possibly want and need!

But it did occur to me that it might be very nice to thank Him, my thanks being a symbolic act, of course, since I wasn’t really sure He even existed. And it might be nice to thank Him in a way that might help somehow and be something in which He might be interested if He did exist.

So I started doing research. Eventually, I found in a book or article somewhere, I don’t even remember where, saying that Zeus was patron of werewolves. I did not know if that is true or not. But I liked the whole werewolf mythos and somehow related to it.

So, at that time, it seemed to me that it would be a good idea to promise the thought-form Zeus that, if he helped me get a certain amount of money to pay my then current high expenses, that I would take some of the money, and not a small amount of it, either, to pay for the expenses of some endangered wolves. I remember I had seen a charity where you could adopt an animal in the wild for protection of that species. This was in the very early days of such charities. Then, if I recall correctly, I even wrote down a promise to Zeus that if he fulfilled my request: I would write a specific check amount out to that specific charity to adopt a wolf in the wild for one year.

After my Wiccan ritual and my prayer and promise, in a very short time, a couple of weeks or less, perhaps, an unexpected gift of money combined with extra work hours, and perhaps even a work bonus, came my way. I remember being very surprised. As a super skeptic, I had worked magic and rituals regularly without ever believing that they would necessarily work or help. I did them because I thought I was adjusting my psychology to find opportunities that I might otherwise miss. And my spells and rituals did in fact, seem to work that way.

But, this time, the result of my ritual was not an opportunity. It was a boon. The amount I received was exactly the right amount to pay my current, previously unforeseen, expenses. And, just as I had promised, I wrote the check and paid for the wolf adoption. Then I thanked Zeus profusely. And I think I may have donated even more money off-and-on in Zeus’s name, in thanks. Then I got more money. Then a better job. Then a lot more money. And it didn’t stop. I worked very hard, but instead of just being the wage slave I had always been, I was suddenly making a very good salary and got very lucky when it came to money.

So why am I telling you all this? Do I think you should do what I did or that such is the right thing for you, personally, to do? No. I am telling you to explain a couple of very important things happened that changed my life and how I approach the Gods. The Gods literally pulled me out of poverty — and a pretty wretched life in many other ways. They have been beyond kind and beyond generous. As time went by, I started regularly promising and giving gifts to them if they helped me. My selfish needs and desires drove me into an unexpected relationship with the Deities.

My motivations were not idealistic, not altruistic. Yet, out of gratitude, I eventually began to give, not only Zeus but to other Gods as well, gifts first, often not asking for anything back. And then one day I knew that I owed them everything my life had become. They had become completely real to me. I knew that they were not “thought forms.” They had become my friends. I had become a practicing Polytheist who had a reciprocal relationship with the Gods, almost entirely through trial and error.

I had had few reliable human teachers to point me in the right direction. On the contrary, most of what I learned I had to work out for myself with the help of the Gods, my beneficent ancestors and the nature spirits.

That’s why I do not “do the work” for Them. It is not work. I know that, for the rest of my life I will never be able to repay Them for what they have done for me which was beyond anything I could have possibly imagined. When I do anything for Them, it is because I love Them deeply and want to do it, love doing it, enjoy doing it. It is no more work than giving love to a sweetheart or child or beloved friend.

And I learned that the Gods want to help us. They want us to ask them to help us. They are the Gods. They want our needs to be met.

And to be completely blunt, that is why we humans, and all other animals, have relationships, first and foremost, of any kind: to meet our needs.

Of course, the Deities want us to grow and take care of ourselves: that means we have to work, for ourselves, to meet our own needs. That’s part of life. But what we can’t do, we need to ask for help from others, including the Gods. That is how a society works. Individual humans simply cannot exist alone. We are not made — nor have we evolved — to work alone. We all have to work with each other and for each other.

That is how life operates; and how it has operated for thousands of years among humans.

And the real challenge, the real adventure, is to do the what you want to do, love to do, were born to do, are made to do — that really, for you, isn’t work.

So let’s stop calling it “the work.” We’ll leave that term to others for whom such terms motivate. That term isn’t motivating us. And let’s see in part two coming up, how you can figure out a way for you to worship the Gods.

How to Make a Polytheist Prayer Book: Steps 10, 11, 12, & 13

dailyinspirationprayer

My daily prayer for inspiration to Pushan

So, by now you have spent some time writing notes and prayer ideas into your working notebook and have copied in your final prayer and offering to a God or Spirit of inspiration. Hopefully, you have been able to say that first prayer and make that first offering to your God or Spirit of inspiration; and already ideas and thoughts and serendipitous happenings have been coming your way, or soon will.

But if you do not feel inspired yet, do not despair or give up. Sometimes we just need to more clearly demonstrate our sincerity to those to whom we pray and make offerings. This is where the next step comes in.

Step 10

From that first prayer to your Deity or Spirit of inspiration, create a smaller prayer for regular use. You can say this new prayer every day, or every week, or whatever works for you. You do not need to, although you can, make an elaborate offering with the prayer. Just a lit candle, or  stick of incense, will suffice since creating the prayer is an offering in and of itself. Sometimes, if you are trying to make friends with your Spirit of inspiration, it would be nice to offer a bit more during your regular prayer such as a flower you found on a walk, or small gift that you think the Spirit would like.

As an idea for rewriting your own prayer for regular use, I will show you what I did. First, here is the original prayer I wrote for Pushan:

Greetings, this dawn, to you, Oh, Pushan,
Lord of the Path, Friend to the Pious!
You are Divine and Resplendent, Great Charioteer with braided hair!
I give you honor on this day, Bright Deity.
As you have been long worshipped, I worship you again!
You who visit mankind, visit me now and accept this offering of morning porridge and coffee as my gift to you.
Wise sage, my heart is filled with praise for you. And I hope you will also be a friend to me.
Please, if you will, inspire me to write prayers for the Gods and Goddesses of the Indo-Iranian pantheon that your worship may be revived!
Please clear my path and help me gather tools to write a prayer book for you and all my Gods and beneficent ancestors, so that I may remember and honor you and your allies again as you were remembered and honored in days of old.
Please guide my course in this endeavor, Strong, Beauteous and Mighty Lord Pushan!
May this be so!

And here is my revised regular prayer:

Oh, Pushan,
Lord of the Path,
Friend to the Pious.
Divine and Resplendent,
Great Charioteer with braided hair,
I honor and praise you,
Bright Deity!
As you have been long worshipped,
I worship you now.
You who visit mankind,
Visit me now and be a friend to me, if you will.
Inspire me to pray to my Gods and Goddesses, my Beneficent
Ancestors, and Land Spirits and Guardian Spirits.
Please clear my path and guide my course,
This day and each day,
Strong, Beauteous and Mighty Lord Pushan!
May it be so, may it be so,
May it truly be so.

Notice that in this prayer I have specifically asked Lord Pushan to inspire me to pray to the deities and spirits. He will be able to remind me how wonderful it is to send these prayers off to those I worship even if I get tired, overwhelmed, or just plain lazy.

I have also added a new ending that I found in Ceisiwr Serith’s A Pagan Ritual Prayer Book on page 25 that I like much better than the one I was using. I like the sound of it and the fact that it is more emphatic. On that page, Serith has a number of suggestions for finding ways to end your prayers. (Again, I highly recommend both his books on prayer.)

Feel free, when praying, to add any extra thoughts or words aloud to your written prayer for your Deity or Spirit of inspiration. You can use the regular prayer as a springboard to talk to Him or Her, explaining your ideas for the prayer book and asking for advice as needed.

Now while you are making these regular prayers to your Spirit of inspiration, you can be doing a few other things to set up your new prayer book.

The formatting of Ceisiwr Serith's Pagan prayer books.

The formatting of Ceisiwr Serith’s Pagan prayer books.

Step 11

Find a place to focus for regular prayer. Most people also like to set up a regular time. Of course, prayer can be said anytime and anywhere. But for regular prayer and meditation practice, if you do it, a regular location can help to quickly focus your mind on prayer itself. Just being there will help to shut out other distractions and thoughts not helpful to communicating with your Deities, Ancestors, and other helpful spirits.

Currently, I have three major places to focus, depending on to whom I am praying and if I include meditation in my prayer time. My favorite place is my outdoor shrine. There I usually honor the Nature Spirits and Ancestors which is how my particular devotional practice is centered.

Indoors I have a shrine just dedicated to Frey which is used strictly for honoring and talking with Him. Nearby I have a wall shrine of three shelves, the contents of which change depending which deities I am honoring. I only have deity images or symbols visible on the shelves when I honor particular deities. I have more than one cultural pantheon and actually worship many other deities besides. If I had shrines for all of them, my home would become a temple instead of a domicile! All my shrines are always a work in progress. And I am often updating and changing them to suit what new things I learn or discover on my spiritual path.

If you do not have a shrine area, start thinking about where you might put one. If you cannot put up an permanent area, think about making a portable shrine out of a box where you can store your prayerbook, a candle, some incense, an image or images, and/or whatever else you would find helpful on which to focus. Write in the notes section of your working notebook your thoughts and ideas, and perhaps draw some diagrams, plans, or paste photos.

Step 12

If you haven’t already, start thinking about, and making some definite notes on, when and how you will worship.  Daily? Weekly? Which festivals will you need prayers for? Who are your deities and what sorts of offerings do they like? What sort of religious calendar will you use? The NeoPagan Wheel of the year? A reconstructionist calendar for a Celtic, or Egyptian (Kemetic), or Roman Pantheon?

Is your practice, like mine, focused on the Ancestors and Nature Spirits? Would it be good to regularly honor your ancestors on special days such as a birthdays, the days they died, holidays they especially enjoyed, or on Memorial Day if they were soldiers or peace keepers? Are there seasonal times you wish to honor Nature Spirits?  For example, I have a fig tree on my property where I believe a nymph resides as the ancient Vedics believed. I offer her flowers and shiny objects at certain times of the year. If you do anything like this, or would like to, be sure to note it in your working notebook. Those notes will help you build a calendar into your final prayer book so you will know when to pray which prayers and when to give which offerings.

All these notes will be very important to help you figure out what sort of book you will need in which to write your final prayers.

Step 13

As you get ideas for how and when you will worship, start seriously looking around for a bound journal or blank book that you think might make a good permanent prayer book for your particular practice.

There are several routes you can go here. You can pick a simple notebook, much like, or the same as, the one you are using now, keeping in mind that your practice may grow and change as time goes on. Thus, you will be creating a first book for this phase of your life, and another one down the road (maybe years from now) for the next phase, and so on. For some people, keeping the prayer book electronic might help with this situation. The prayer book can be revised as needed and used on a tablet or smart phone or even printed out by computer where the pages can be put into a notebook, or the files taken to your local printing business where it an be created into a spiral or other bound book.

A different route you can go is to find a journal, blank book, or notebook which can be changed as needed by removing and adding pages and/or sections.

The third route is to simply create a nicely bound permanent prayer book, continually writing new prayers into it as needed, and then just create a new prayer book if and when it fills up. If you learn to bind books (book binding is actually pretty easy and very fulfilling), you can even make your prayer book just the way you like it each time.

siddurim

Two sizes and formats of published prayer books. Such books can give you good ideas for your Polytheist prayer book.

Also, you do not need to use just one prayer book at any particular time. If you have more than one cultural pantheon that you worship, you might want a separate prayer book for each. Some people like to have a small portable prayer book to take with them to work or travel, and then have a larger one for home use. Above is a picture of two sizes of Jewish prayer books. Devout Jews pray three times a day, even taking the small prayer book (called a Siddur) with them to work so they can pray during the day. As you can see from the picture, the pages are beautifully laid out and organized, complete with calendars and boxes for special prayers for special days. You can learn much from how various religions lay out their prayer books. From them you can get ideas of how you want to make your own.

The next time you come back I will show you the book I chose as my regular home prayer book and what I will do for a smaller book to take with me.

May your path be smooth and obstacle free as you continue to create your prayer book during the next weeks! See you again for Step 14!