Featured at Kamakhya Temple

A few updates: Pilgrimage, Grief Ritual, Many Gods West, Work

I’ve been pretty busy in the four weeks since Many Gods West. Much busier than I thought I would be, actually. But this year: Whoever keeps turning up the pressure cooker really needs to take a break.🙂

I’ve been doing quite a bit of visioning, for myself and for community, and there are some exciting things brewing. Here are a few of them.

I’ve been invited on a pilgrimage to India for about 3 weeks in December to January. Whereas my first trip to India was actually a working trip, this will be a spiritual pilgrimage dedicated to Maa and visiting sacred Shakti sites for devotion. It is being led by a mandir in the San Francisco Bay Area that I greatly respect and I am honored to join them. My heart longs for this, but to make it happen I will need community support. I’ve launched a fundraiser Naked Before Maa: Pilgrimage to India where there is additional information and a more full picture of why I desire this so. I would have such gratitude for your contributions and your efforts at helping me share this!

I will be facilitating a Community Ritual of Grieving in Portland, OR in October. This will be similar to the ritual that I had planned to do at Many Gods West. I am also in conversation with others to bring this ritual to Seattle, WA and to hold other grief circles in a dedicated space in Portland. If you are interested in inviting me to your community to facilitate grief work, please contact me at the form below.

We’ve been getting some excellent feedback on Many Gods West 2016. If you haven’t heard already, I will be the lead organizer of Many Gods West 2017. One of the first things I will be working on is establishing a non-profit organization for the conference. If you would like to assist with establishing the organization, or with organizing the 2017 conference, you are also welcome to contact me.

I am also opening the to door to some additional contract work. Such as: Non-profit and grassroot organization work, including formation, strategic planning, and grantwriting/fundraising; Project management; Working, supporting, and brainstorming with cultural creative types; Writing and Editing; Spiritual coaching and Teaching. I also am a very experienced accountant and bookkeeper. If you are or know of a person or woke business looking for such services, or have another project that you would like to bring me in on, please contact me.

I’ll be writing in more detail about all of these things soon!

And here is a reminder about my Patreon. If you would like to support this and all of the other work that I do, please consider becoming a Patreon supporter and be a part of the community building!

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My Polytheism

My polytheism was born in the innocent, rebellious heart of a child. My polytheism was found in moonlight, was found in the air thick with moisture and meaning, was found not in resistance to the stares of God-the-Father, but in the imploring look of Mary-the-Mother. My polytheism was found in the awakening of memories and the voice urging me to “look just behind my eyes.”

My polytheism roots into the dark and fecund earth, finding place in the deep and silent places. It rises into the stars, casting itself into the universe that spins just as I do. My polytheism needs no authority, including the authority of the gods, and reminds me of the power that I hold in equal measure.

My polytheism is fierce and bloody. It is the wild dance that shakes time itself. It is the howling of black dogs at midnight. My polytheism cannot be contained and will shred any attempt at doing so. Just as you think you know what it is, it sheds its skin again.

My polytheism is devotional and ecstatic. I build shrines. I offer prayers. I perform ceremony. I speak with them as I would a lover – though they are not always or only that. My relationships with my gods are intensely intimate and born of great longing. In that I listen to their voices before those of any human claiming authority over my practice, I do put my gods first. My relationships with the gods is no one else’s business, unless I invite you in.

My polytheism is my heart reaching for what my arms could never hold.

My polytheism is engaged with the world. My gods do not want me to limit my polytheism to practice in front of a small shrine, or even to remembering them as I remember my own breath. My polytheism cannot turn from injustice any more than it could turn from the gods and still call itself polytheism.

My polytheism is as my witchcraft, my gods the gods of the oppressed and common people. My gods have opened my eyes again and again and again to the way that devotion must be followed with action, and is meaningless otherwise. They have opened my eyes again and again and again to the sources of power and the ways that those who seek to oppress the people wield and abuse it. They have opened my heart again and again and again to the most marginalized, to those who are pushed to the fringes of society – for the gods are most certainly there too.

Turn your eyes inward. Turn your heart outward. Put your hands to work. Liberate the people. Only then will they be able to turn themselves toward devotion.

My polytheism rejoices in community. It demands a community of people who are free of the tyranny of colonialism, capitalism, and patriarchy. It does not demand to tell you how to be free, but it is willing to help you find the way. My polytheism seeks to build a community of connection. You are welcome, but you are not obligated. You do not need us to pursue your own path, but we are here if you want to sit around the fire.

My polytheism embraces paradox, lives in the multitude. It knows that it is but one piece, one star, amongst an infinite number of possibilities. It is the drop of water that represents the ocean, but is not all of the ocean.

My polytheism is mine, and my gods’, and it doesn’t belong to you. But if you show it the respect due a relationship, it will open its arms to you as friend.

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Initiations of Ash

The man placed a line of gray ash from the sacred firepit upon my forehead, above the bright sindoor red bindi he had marked me with in Kali’s temple. I felt a shudder of energy release memories of past and future; a layer of old self replaced by a new layer of meaning. There was fire behind my eyes, gray of ash and red of blood. In that instant the gravity of the experience I had just received in the temple, the shrines I had visited marking patterns of a deeper mystery, began to transform me.

* * *

She came roaring in a cloud of ash, bright flashing blade and lolling tongue. Slice, chop, red palms to hungry skulls, CRACK. Here, my child, You Are.

* * *

The boat was rocking so softly as I took my place on the very edge, toes just touching the surface of the water; green-gray that seemed to taste extra salty. Or perhaps that was the tears trapped on my tongue. I plunged my hand into the depths of the black container, pulling out a grasp of the ashen remains of my sister’s body. My hand began to tingle as energy spread across it and up my arm. With a silent prayer I stretched out my arm and released, the ashes falling from my hand and spreading in a cloud in the water. I looked at my hand – it no longer felt like my own. It felt lighter, possessed of something holy and yet weighted by a mass defying it’s size.

Again. Plunge into the plastic, a handful of grains and chips of bone, release. The boat jumped slightly as wind and wave shifted, and the ash blew back into my face. Forehead, nose, lips – the graininess of salt and ash, borne on a gentle caress of wind. Again I felt the shudder, and the energy in my hand surged through my body and blasted through my new layers of meaning as freshly healed skin tender to the touch of it. I felt my crown open as my vision doubled, tripled, became clearer.

Now you see.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about initiation lately. The experiences I told you of here all happened within the span of about a month, this year. I’m also studying another initiatory tradition, and rolling that around has been an interesting exercise around my views on power and authority.

I’ve never really wanted initiation by a teacher (though I have craved the devotional relationship of student-teacher – but that is another post). The tradition I studied under the longest was non-initiatory, though I was given the blessing of self-initiation and acknowledgment as priestess.

But that isn’t to say I’ve never been initiated.

How could these experiences not be initiations? What if initiation is not only a single act, bestowed upon us by another supposedly (hopefully) with the support of the Gods? And what contextualization do we have for these experiences, let alone what support? I’ve struggled to feel comfortable discussing some of these experiences and to be taken seriously, and that struggle has really illuminated the places where initiation is tied to power and authority.

For me, being a priestess is who I am. It is how I walk in the world. It is in my actions and my way of being. It isn’t about holding power over others, dictating meaning or relationships with the Divine. It isn’t about being in service to any one or any thing either, though it is about being of service. It does mean an awful lot of work and sacrifice and looking at things that sometimes I would really just rather not.

It is going to the places unseen, doing the work that needs doing, and bringing it back out into the world. It is walking in cremation grounds, those places where people dare not go, and receiving the ashes.

“A healthy Priest makes all things sound.” Francesca DeGrandis

If I am a god, in relationship with other gods (embodied and not), then where do initiations come from? And if a God should deliver an initiation to me without an intermediary, how is that somehow ‘less valid’?

Ultimately for me, it comes down to the most important questions of all: how do you walk in the world? How are you of service? Do you live with integrity and accountability? Are you willing to show up and do the hard work? Will you thrust your hand into the ash and do what needs done?

If so, you have very likely undergone many of your own initiations, whether through the hands of another or the hands of the Gods.

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Building Polytheist Community: You Might Be Doing it Wrong

This past weekend was the second year of Many Gods West. As one of the conference organizers, I am still recovering from the last 11 months and so find myself unable to put words to my experiences just yet. I am planning to write a blog post about exactly what goes in to putting on a conference for Polytheists, Witches, and Pagans. We don’t talk about it too much and I think our communities should be able to see what goes on behind the scenes so that there is more awareness about how hard organizers work and just how much we wish we could do things like pay presenters. I would also love to see MGW East, Midwest, etc and sharing our experiences is helpful for those who want to try to do this thing. =)

As I wrote in my last post, I was also a part of the plenary panel on building polytheist community. I took the opportunity to hop on a soapbox and say some things that I really felt needed to be said. Here it is:

How do we build Polytheist community? First I want to start off with this:

We don’t build it by allowing people to attack members of our community in such a way that threatens their physical, emotional, spiritual, or financial safety. That especially includes attacks by people who are supposedly also a member of our community. If you hold some degree of privilege or position and there is nothing stopping you from standing up to such behavior that would also put you at risk and you still choose not to address it in some way, at the very least by offering support to the one being attacked, and then try to talk of community, you are being very hypocritical. And I say that in the most loving way possible, but there is an increasing amount of behavior I see happening that is hurting people and driving wedges into our communities.

And yes, sometimes addressing it does not mean making grand public displays, and we can do this while holding compassion. But there is far too much turning the other way, hoping it will just go away, lets just let them get bored and slink away until the next time. As a community builder I take this personally, because it counters everything I do and makes it that much harder. We have to be brave and willing to stare the dark, vicious, scarred parts of ourselves and our community in the eye. I also think we need many more opportunities to learn and employ tools of restorative justice.

I want to add and clarify that this applies to not only individual, interpersonal actions but also to those who use our traditions to promote bigotry and fascist ideologies.

I am working on getting the rest of my notes together into a more coherent article and will publish it here or on Gods&Radicals when it is finished.

I changed my plans for the Community Ritual of Grieving over the weekend. I recognized that it would not have been safe or responsible for me to hold a big cathartic ritual on Sunday given how tired I was, and it seemed like a lot of people were feeling “ritualed out”. Instead I facilitated a grief circle; it was so deeply moving and beautiful, I think that perhaps it was what was needed all along. The feedback I’ve received is confirmation of the deep healing potential of having our grief held and witnessed in community, and that we really do need more of these spaces. So I will be offering more of such things in the future.

I also want to say thank you to everyone who helped make Many Gods West 2016 such a success, and to everyone who has helped hold and support me during this very difficult year. You have my unending love and gratitude. I am very much looking forward to taking some down time to Just Be, and then jumping back in to co-creating more amazing things with you all.

Would you like to support my work in the community? Consider joining me on Patreon. Your financial support helps make it possible for me to offer my work to others.

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Many Gods West, Community, and Grief

Many Gods West 2016 is only 9 days away. The 2015 conference marked a significant point in my life, and I really can’t believe it has only been a year.

This year, I am one of two primary organizers of the event. And let me tell you, it has been quite the adventure worthy of a novel (I’m just not sure what kind yet – contemporary drama, urban fantasy, or maybe even a Dan Brown book). I won’t gloss it; it is exhausting and underappreciated work. And I am honored to offer it.

In the process, my relationships with gods and people have deepened greatly. Doors have been opened and thresholds crossed. Friendships that I will always cherish have been strengthened. Community has been woven. And it is that weaving of community that has held me in my grief during this time as well.

I am a part of two offerings during the conference. The first is the Plenary Panel on building polytheist community (Friday at 12:30); following our opening ritual we hope that this will help set the tone for the remainder of the conference.

Community building seems so challenging. And sometimes we make it more complex than it needs to be. I think people have a tendency to envision community as a utopia, as a grand idea to be reached. We set ourselves up to fail. If we adjust our thinking a bit, we may realize that we are already always building and supporting community, and that the work of doing that is not as big and challenging as we make it out to be.

We can also fall into the trap of conflating “community” with “identity”. Community does form around identity, but if we are not careful we will form an exclusive monoculture. Communities require diversity to thrive. We treat community as something that should just happen because we all share some thing in common, and we don’t question who we are including. For marginalized people this can be a source of support, but it can also be a source of harm. Community is a process; it is continually creating, evolving, changing, dying. And it is based in relationships.

The second offering is a Community Ritual of Grieving (Sunday at 2:00pm). Grief work has been a part of my service for a long time, but it is so much more personal now. And I feel more deeply than ever before the desperate need we have for community spaces around grief, and for more ceremonies for death, loss, and grieving.

We must grieve before we can create. We must learn to mourn what has been lost before we can build something better. We must honor that which is hungry and grief stricken within us. We must give voice and space to grief and to celebration.

That wail? The one coiled in your gut, the tip of it stuck in your throat? You fear it is too wild, too unrestrained, that if you were to let it free the force of it might just break you in two?

It is. It will. It must.

It is the sound of stars, the sound of black holes and supernova, the sound of a sun burning to its death giving us life.

It is the sound of your liberation. It is the key to your wildness and your power. Your restraint is the lock put there by those who seek to keep us quiet, passive, productive.

Let grief break you. Let our wails rise in unison, mourning all that we have lost all that has been taken from us.

And let us build a better world with the pieces, serenaded by rediscovered notes so sweet.

Grief is a part of who we are; as natural as breathing or eating. Grief and ecstasy weave together to form the tapestry of life and love. We will co-create space to access the grief that is held within, to give it sound and movement. We will then fill the space with love and our visions for a better world. We will hold and be held, witness and be witnessed.

I am very much looking forward to sharing Many Gods West with everyone. I hope the conference fills the cup of everyone in attendance, so that you may continue with your own good works.

Would you like to help support my work? Please consider joining me on Patreon, or dropping a tip into the PayPal link on the sidebar. 

Invocation to Grieving Hearts

May the waves of our grief
and the fires of our open hearts
rise and flow to remind us all
of the power that we contain.

Our bones are made of mountains
Our tears made of stars

With the contraction and expansion of every heart beat
Our bodies call to the grief and ecstasy of life

May we remember
in honor of all those who are forgotten
May we remember
in honor of the blood in the soil
and the beings that have been lost.

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I actually wrote that over a week ago, before I really heard about the murder of Alton Sterling, followed by the murder of Philando Castile, and a number of other deaths of POC in the last few days that happen everyday.

It came after a night of devotion to Kali. It came after having another layer of maya ripped from my sight. I’ve been struggling to reorient myself since then, and have realized that nothing has felt stable in longer than I can remember.

Three weeks ago I wrote “I don’t know what’s next. We’ll see what the coming weeks and months bring, even if I am afraid to look.”

I keep diving into the current, hoping to pull out something profound and meaningful, something that will inspire to empowerment and action. But I gotta be honest: right now I’m not finding anything other than the ominous. And as I watch the protests surge across the country, fear and grief flowing through the people, I can’t help but feel that this is not the end.

Are you feeling it too? That sense of something being ripped open, of something below the surface that feels too dark, too deep?

Do you feel the resistance, like a rip tide?

 

Hymn to Kali

 

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O Maa
Dancing through our hearts
Shattering our illusions

You, Creator and Destroyer
All encompassing Time
Nothing escapes the wisdom of your blade

Sever us from our demons
Teach us to drink deep
of the ecstasy of life

O Maa
Praise be to you,
Most Fierce and Loving One.

Jai Kali Maa!

Poem and Photo by Syren Nagakyrie