The BIG Polytheist Patreon Creator Pledge Network

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Image by Danica Swanson

I have taken the BIG (basic income guarantee) Polytheist Patreon Creator Pledge !

The what?! 🙂

Its a pledge network created by Danica Swanson, as inspired by Scott Santens. Both Danica and I have been supporters and advocates for an unconditional basic income for many years. We all suffer under the protestant work ethic and the requirement to conscript our time in the service of capital. As a polytheist creator and community builder, I would much rather offer my time in service to creativity,  devotion, and community. And I think our world could be vastly improved if more people were able to offer their time to the things that most call to their own hearts! What could you do if you knew you were guaranteed to receive an income every month, enough to meet at least part of your basic needs?

Of course, a socially provided basic income is probably a long way off in the US. But we are seeing movement in that direction, and Patreon is a step! Community support of creators through providing us a guaranteed income every month allows us to meet some of our basic needs. Every hour you ‘purchase’ for us is an hour we do not have to sell to capitalism; it is an hour we can spend to bring the world the work of our hearts.

I have pledged that every dollar above US $1000 per month will be pledged to other polytheists on Patreon who make the same commitment to limit their patronage goal in support of a basic income for all. 

It is my hope that through this pledge network we can not only raise awareness about basic income, but help more polytheists receive the support that they need. This will enrich our communities and help shift the often-unspoken expectation that we offer our work and service for free.

If you are a polytheist or animist on Patreon and would like to take the same pledge, contact Danica at shrine.of.skadi at Google mail.  Curious to learn more? Check out her page here .

Hekate Festival, Want to Work with Me?, and other Exciting Updates

But first, the not-so-exciting news is that 3 weeks ago I injured one of the ligaments in my knee. The orthopedic says 2-3 months recovery time, but being witches and all my goal is to shorten that considerably. Help visualize me up and walking around, fully healed?

Because of this I had to postpone the Community Ritual of Grieving that I had planned for tonight. It really pained me to have to do so, but I knew that I would not be ready to hold the container of such a ritual yet. The mark of a good priest is knowing your limitations and when the responsible thing to do is take a step back, so that is what I did. I’ll reschedule it as soon as I feel able to do so. In the meantime I did publish an embodied grief practice to access your grief.

I was also unable to raise the funds to go on my pilgrimage to India. I have been invited to join a training program with the mandir, which I have started. It is opening my heart wider to Maa and giving me the container I wanted for my studies. If you would like to donate to help fund my training, you can continue to do so at my fundraiser.

Some other exciting opportunities: given that I’m laid up for a little while, I have considerably more time available. I have now opened my schedule to take on more clients. I specialize in working with Pagans, Polytheists, cultural change makers, and those who struggle with ways of doing things that are enforced by capitalism and the dominant paradigm.

I am available for contract work for:
– bookkeeping or accounting (its getting to be the end of the year!)
– nonprofit formation and strategic planning (you don’t really want to write those bylaws yourself, do you? Stuck on how to move the org forward?)
– Grant writing and fundraising (I’ve written small private foundation and million dollar Federal grants, and doubled the budget of an organization through fundraising)
– Organization, Coaching, and Make Shit Happen Magic ™ (Got a project or something you’re trying to make happen? Overwhelmed by all the Things? I’ve got the skills and the magic to get it done.)

And something I am personally very excited about: I will be teaching on the intersections of polytheism and social justice at A Magic Big Enough a festival calling upon Hekate Soteira to make magic big enough to heal the world. We’ll be gathering November 11-13 near Duvall, Washington. I am so honored to be invited to participate in this weekend of magic being organized by the Wyrd Sisters. Hekate is and will always be my First Love, the One who guided me home, the One who first asked me to be of service in healing the world. This is my offering to Her. Io Hekate!

Many Gods West is also moving along with a great team, and we’ve announced dates and location: August 4-6, 2017 at the Hotel RL in Olympia WA. Our website will be updated very soon!

Gods&Radicals is publishing our first book by one of the site writers: Pagan Anarchism. Check it out, even if its just to ogle the cover art. We are also still accepting submissions for the next edition our journal, A Beautiful Resistance.

That’s all for now! I hope you are all managing well as this really difficult year comes to a close.

If you would like to support this blog and my work in the world, which I often offer as a gift, you can find me on Patreon.

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.

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.

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.

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. 

Offering and Taboo

CW: discussion of animal sacrifice

Kalighat

I had just received darshan from the podium above the image of Maa Kali. My senses were overwhelmed with the headiness of the spiritual experience, and the overload of being crowded and jostled by devotees, and harangued for money by the phaledar delegates. I exited the temple into the not-so-fresh Kolkata air, and walked around to the other side. Suddenly, my bare feet felt something slick. I looked down, afraid of what I would see, and noticed the blood red streaks from the enclosure next to me, going around the outside of the temple. I turned the corner and took in the sight of the Harikhat-Tola. Covered in blood, as well as red siddur and piled with flowers, this is where the animal sacrifice took place. There were two harikhat, a smaller one for goats and a larger one for buffalo. It was a festival day, and there had obviously been a sacrifice that morning – the blood on the stone around the temple was still fresh.

Kamakhya

I was sitting peacefully within a temple high on a hill, having just entered the womb of it and received darshan of the yoni of the goddess. Pigeons were being released with devotion, having been blessed with red marks by a priest. The bells were ringing, and people were praying with looks of complete bliss and devotion. Goats were wandering everywhere, and I had to remember to not set anything down, for a nibbling goat would quickly be there.

A very young goat was led by a rope into the enclosure next to me, bleating the whole way. The cries briefly became more desperate, and then suddenly stopped. A moment later, a priest walked out with a bowl full of blood and siddur, and devotees gathered around him fervently, ready for the blessings.

Goat at Kamakhya
Goat at Kamakhya Photo by S. Nagakyrie

On my second visit to Kalighat Mandir, a gentle and devoted man that a friend connected me with guided me through the temple complex. He took me back to the Harikath-Tola, and looked at me as he explained the purpose of the place. I could sense that he wasn’t sure how I would react as a Westerner, and was quick and sure to explain that only in some Kali worship was this done and that the animals never suffered and nothing was wasted. I lingered there a moment after he spoke, the full meaning of this place settling on me after experiencing his sharing of it, the devotion and reverence transforming any sense of disdain I had felt.

As a vegetarian of over a decade and a Westerner these experiences should, and did, shock me at first even though I knew to expect them. And as a white person in the US I would never conduct animal sacrifice in my worship of Kali. But within the fabric of Hindu Tantric practice this was an essential thread.

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Harikhat at the Kali temple Photo from http://www.kalibhakti.com/kalighat/

Taboo

There is a Tantric dictum that says Yaireva Patanam Dravyaih Siddhih Taireva – That by which one falls is also that by which one rises. This of course speaks to the core philosophy of tantra, that desire and attachment to the material world cannot be overcome simply by abstaining from it; one must confront that desire and those material attachments themselves. It is through desire and attachment that we can be free of it.

“The Tantra holds that the impure, the ugly and the unholy things of life are things which have been wrongly seen out of their context, and, from their own particular positions, or from the point of view of the things themselves, they are neither good nor bad, neither beautiful nor ugly, neither holy nor unholy.”
~Sri Swami Krishnananda

In Tantric rituals, items are used in acts of devotion that may seem out of place at best, and abhorrent at worst, to our Western perception. There are items that are often taboo in Hindu culture, for example tobacco and meat. And in Tantra, particularly in the worship of Kali, there is sometimes blood through animal sacrifice.

Offering

As a witch I agree that the things of life, from their own particular position, are not in and of themselves good or bad – that is far too binary for me. But I do think that the things of life become good/bad, beautiful/ugly, and even holy/unholy, through the meaning that we give them. Unfortunately, the context within which we find and ascribe meaning is powerfully influential. And the means through which that context and meaning is constructed is just as important.

The first time I attended a tantric puja, I wondered about the use of tobacco. I was a smoker at the time, so it wasn’t particularly taboo to me to use tobacco. Within the context of my life, tobacco was a normal thing. But as the small cigar was passed around, I thought about the lives that had created that object, whose own contexts were very different from mine. I thought about the history of tobacco in America – the sacred use of it by indigenous peoples, the harm and subsistence it has brought since colonization. For some people tobacco has a very significant meaning. For me, it had become so commonplace as to barely register in my awareness. I inhaled the taste of it, noticing the small part of me that was repulsed by smoking tobacco in ritual, while the multiple layers of meaning shuffled in my head.

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We know daily use of tobacco kills people. We know that the corporations that produce tobacco for mass consumption do so using 100s of chemicals that increase addiction and that lead to a multitude of health problems. And so this too is a part of the context, is a part of the origin of the thing which influences our construction of the meaning. We cannot ignore it – that awareness is a part of our consciousness.

But we can acknowledge it, and flip it in an act of offering, of sacred-making. We can open ourselves to all of the meaning that has been ascribed to a thing, and thus reclaim our power to create our own meaning. We can move through our binary attachments and recognize the complexity of our own and other contexts.

In India, I opened myself to another source of meaning, a different context for the things of life. That awareness has created an even greater opening in my devotional practice, and for the creation of my own meaning.