The Waning of Devotional Polytheism has Been Greatly Exaggerated

Did you know that fifteen years ago you wouldn’t have been able to find one person blogging openly about devotional polytheism? There were a few of us writing about devotional subjects on private Livejournal (and Deadjournal) accounts, but we didn’t call it devotional polytheism. In fact, I was fighting an uphill battle trying to convince people that “devotion” was more than just syrupy affection for the deities and spirits in one’s life, that it was the relational model that characterized our basic worldviews and reciprocal styles of interacting. So perhaps I can be a little forgiven if I’m going to be the “back in my day” guy for a bit here.

Devotional polytheism is fine.

Well, it’s certainly fine in the sense that people are out there, doing their thing, relating to their Powers, exploring reciprocation, learning about give and take in relationship, and striving to achieve a balance that is enriched by the numinous. Polytheists as a loosely defined demographic certainly have the same kind of problems that any other loosely defined demographic are likely to have, and we’ve identified problems that call for more focused attention (might-makes-right mentalities, abuse of power, white supremacist ideology, a rather too cozy attitude to global religious nationalist movements that are actually aren’t our friends or anyone’s friends, etc.). We can work on these things. We are working on these things. Learning to recognize the ways in which these problems are perpetuated and perpetrated are the first steps and the continuing steps; these skills are learned through implementation – by doing, and specifically by doing them over and over.

But the existence of devotional polytheism, by the fact of a relational existence, by the fact of a network of bonds, that web of obligation and affection and need and sustenance and giving and supply and honoring and care and nourishment and lack and appeasement and asking and granting and gift and love that holds us all within it?

That’s fine. That hasn’t gone anywhere. We’re all still held in it, our Powers are all still held in it, we’re all held together and we move within it and the tides of need and sentiment and bond move in waves throughout. Devotional polytheism is fine.

**

If you read Mr. Beckett’s article on trend’s in paganism, you’ll probably recognize the point I’m speaking to. He’s concerned about the waning of devotional polytheism of the type he’s familiar with, or at least people writing about it where he can see it. I’m sure he’s not the only one handwringing the decline of the golden age of devotional polytheism (or at least the one that took place where we all could see it), but he’s the one who wrote something that I saw, so I’ll speak to that.

Devotional polytheism as we think of it currently hasn’t existed for two decades. In fact, our collective thoughts about devotional polytheism change so rapidly that it hasn’t had time to solidify into anything, really. It’s one way, and then it’s another, depending on who currently has the largest online following. And when you think about it, that’s a really odd way for religious thought to develop. (And indeed, some people will recognize that that’s not a way that religious thought develop, but rather how other kinds of thought develops, which is probably why it’s not such a bad thing polytheist blogging has rather waned – and I even say this as a polytheist who happens to still have a blog and has finally remembered how to log in.) We’re still barely on board with the gods being real; the reality of relationships with them is still way beyond what a lot of people even within our own polytheist communities are willing to grant, even though that – to me – is a foundational assumption of a polytheist worldview.

Furthermore, we are presented with the question of what, exactly, our devotional bonds are for. To my view, devotional relationships – indeed, all relationships, whether one exists inside a polytheist worldview framework or not – are self-justified. They require no outside justification, no reason why beyond the fact of the relationship themself. They are relationship-for-relationship-sake, rather like art. Relationships form naturally because we are beings who naturally form relationships, just as we naturally create art. (And yes, we do in fact form unhealthy relationships, or form relationships that become unhealthy, but that’s a secondary fact beside this first.) Therefore the relationships we have with our Powers are self-justified. We don’t really need any theological explanation that details the purpose of these relationships, although various polytheist traditions may have their own explanations of the value or benefit of these relationships, and indeed individual practitioners may come to various conclusions about the value or benefit of these relationships within the context of their own life – but again, I believe these are secondary facts beside the first.

Because I believe that relationships – existing within a polytheist framework or not – are self-justified, based on the fact that we humans are relationship-building creatures, our relationships with the Powers do not exist for the sole or primary purpose of being shown to other people. Therefore, no one can feel entitled or permitted to access evidence of these relationships; our relationships with the Powers are not for consumption, and they are not “for” consumption. If an individual practitioner feels like sharing, feels like they have something to say about their relationship(s), about their life in relationship(s), or about their life as a polytheist (which again, is life lived in relationship(s)), then sure, yeah, excellent, whatever, awesome – but that’s not the point. There is no point, no purpose, no end-goal, no productivity quota, no measurement – relationship is just a fact, just a feature of life, like the shape of the horizon where you live. It has nothing to prove, and unless you choose to talk about it, it has nothing to say.

I also have to admit that I’m also leaning a bit into resisting the endless pressure to instrumentalize every bit of our lives. I’ve gotten smacked by this over and over again, endlessly, brought up short by this tendency, which has been ground into me, carved deep by social and interpersonal pressures that people don’t even know they’re exerting. What is instrumentalization? It’s making everything useful – and specifically, making everything profitable. And profitable not necessarily in the sense of monetary gain (though there is that goal underlying everything) but profitable in the sense of personal gain. There’s this endless pressure to make sure that everything I do has to ultimately benefit me in the sense of very tangible personal gain, including what I say online. And once I started seeing how I was weighing and measuring all these assessments, the more resentful I got – who wants me to profit? To whose profit am I ultimately working? Certainly I’m not personally getting ahead, so someone must be.

I want to choose, at least a little bit, how I am consumed. Admittedly, there are very few ways I can control how I am consumed, and how what I create and output into the world is consumed, so it’s perhaps no wonder that I’m a little picky about framing those outputs. No doubt others who have different life experiences and/or those who have reached different conclusions will feel differently about their creations and their output. But I’m tired. Maybe I’m just getting older and more quickly resentful of people who want things from me unasked. Maybe I’m getting more fiercely private and more quickly resentful of getting pulled apart by intrusive prying. Maybe I’m angry at myself for giving so much of myself away in hopes that it would, in fact, gain me something just like I was promised when it actually didn’t and I felt empty and used instead, and I don’t want that to happen to anyone else.

So no, I’m not sharing the intricacies of my life lived in relationship because it’s not for consumption. It is self-justified, for itself, valuable for the fact of its existence alone, not so I can pull it apart for viewing and consideration by others – strangers and critics. In general, I don’t know what to think about the nuances of these relationships myself, even though I have plenty of information from wisdom teachings to draw from, so I don’t think dumping them on the general public will be at all helpful. Additionally, I want to make sure that I treat myself well – better than I used to! – that I avoid turning myself into a product for others to consume, a novelty that is picked up and turned over, laughed at or pitied, critiqued or considered. I deserve better. So do you.

So yeah – devotional polytheism is fine. You’re fine (probably. maybe there’s some people who seem to be fence sitting about white supremacy that you need to boot from your personal orbit, but you can do it. I believe in you). You can go look at the horizon in your area and not ask it to explain itself, and then you can similarly go look at the Powers in your life and, very gradually, stop asking Them why They choose to be with you.

Maybe we can both learn to do this together. I believe in us.

For a friend

This day twelve months ago I put in action a decision I had already made in my head and heart many months, many years, before. I had trusted myself that when the time was right, I would know but of course the question remained – would I really know?

I did. When it was time, I knew.

I lost my friend last year, which is an anemic euphemism for the death of an animal, especially when this animist spirit worker knows more or less exactly where the animal still is (in the little cedar box; in the nebulous spirit haze that’s just sort of everywhere). And really, I don’t feel like I’ve “lost” anything – I just feel her gone-ness rather than a loss. No fleeing, no draining, no gradual departure, just a gone-ness that I feel is quite irreconcilable with my own continued staying-ness. My friend is gone and I’m still here. This fact remains an incompatible truth, a pearl of wisdom with firmly defined edges that I can’t help but examine or that I am simply endlessly confronted by.

I didn’t expect to feel better by this point, but I did rather imagine I’d feel differently. Maybe less sad. The sadness has less emotional dominance, it’s not the starring role in my emotional landscape, but the quality of the sadness is still basically the same since it mellowed from depression after the first few months. I do, thankfully, feel many other things besides sad, which is a problem I had for a while, so in that sense I feel like I’ve felt better over time, but the quality of the sadness remains basically the same.

I really thought I had more to say about this. I sort of put off all day saying things that I really quite wanted to say, only to entirely forget what they were and to feel that they were probably worthless anyway. I don’t know if I’m saying these words to get them out of my head, to add a tick mark after an arbitrary amount of time has passed since her passing, to examine emotions I’ve long since become familiar with.

Maybe I just want to stop feeling sad. Maybe I want to find some joy and comfort in the memories of the small soft animal I lived with for 9 years instead of just mourning every time I think of her. Maybe I want to welcome her spirit with gladness instead of thinking about how she’s gone even though she’s *right there*.

I miss you, Butter. I miss you so much. Thank you for everything you gave and did and were and are. You are remembered in the present tense.

Real witch reacts to witchtok (not clickbait)

I mean, it’s not clickbait – but it’s self-aware enough that it definitely is. Except that I hope I’ve gone quite a bit past the reacting stage and maybe into the responding stage – and except except that I still don’t exactly know what my response really is.

People who know me personally will know that I’ve been trying to make sense of witchtok for quite a while (witchtok being the witchy and witch-adjacent short-form video content made and shared on TikTok and the compilation videos that I personally browse on YouTube. I’m quite sure the compilation videos are harvested by bots. Anyway.).

I want to be very clear that I’m not coming at this topic with the stance of “kids these days are so silly! they don’t know anything! why in my day we had to walk five miles just to buy a used Dorothy Clutterbuck biography and we were grateful“. Do you think information was better in Ye Olden Days? I was getting my feet wet in the witch and pagan communities as we know them now at the same time that the infamous Irish Potato Goddess was introduced to the world. Before that, Time-Life Books helped me make my first tarot deck (who else learned about witchcraft and tarot reading from Mysteries of the Unknown?). We had bad astrology books, bad tarot books – astrology was pretty trendy in the 70s and 80s. There was the cliche pickup line, “what’s your sign?” that reflected the cheesiness of the trend but also just how ubiquitous astrology had become. You could buy Star Scrolls at supermarket checkouts; those were little rolled up bits of paper with astrological insight based on your sun sign; the scrolls were just narrower than a cigarette. Sun sign jewelry and tattoos were everywhere (still are and I still don’t know who buys them). I remember all this junk astrology very vividly from my childhood in the early 80s.

So I guess what I’m saying is that it’s not like “kids these days” have a monopoly on shitty witchcraft information, and it’s not like decades ago we had like really great information or anything like that. The books were meant to make money for the people who published them, not to educate people on the timeless art and science of crafting change in accordance with will or anything like that. (I do think that we now have many authors who are writing some really excellent work, but there’s always the issue of knowing what material is going to be helpful to you, and why, and what books are good but just not helpful to you, and all the rest. But that’s probably another post in itself.)

I’m coming at this with some real genuine questions. Because I haven’t been embedded in circles of witchcraft seekers for a long time, not steadily enough to recognize trends and changes. I absolutely meet seekers all the time, people who have questions about starting their practice, about what they need to know, about how to find the information they want, about what tools and materials they should seek out, about how to talk about their practice with others outside the fold of belief – these questions absolutely never change, but other things do. And sustained, close contact with populations of seekers is probably required to trace those changes. I haven’t had that because for many years I’ve thought of myself as largely retired from that sort of thing.

And so this brings me to the first question raised by witchtok – where are people getting their information? A lot of it clearly is just recirculated among itself – which, understandable. I see this in particular with plant and mineral correspondences and techniques like spell jar construction. I think a lot of it (plant and mineral stuff) also comes from Tumblr – which, again, understandable. It’s free, it’s accessible, and it’s just there. It’s where a lot of current online witchcraft grew up (just like how my witchcraft grew up on Geoshitties and didn’t really question where that information came from).

People do clearly read; they show the books they’re reading and mention titles they recommend – and y’all, some of these titles are wild. Ummmm, didn’t a certain PreciousMetalApexPreditor get hardcore cancelled by us a long time ago for being a bad author and perpetuating false narratives and encouraging bad practices and other things? The self-described baby witches have decided that she’s OK to learn from again, and perhaps some of us need to get over our grumpyass retirement and suggest some better reading material. Many of these books are…not ones I’d suggest. Not be a long shot.

There are good, ethical authors writing for major pagan publishers. There are good, helpful books that can be obtained through major bookstores. Thriftbooks exists. Local bookstores will order you anything if you ask. Libraries will help you obtain virtually any book you ask for. You don’t have to steal books. Comrades don’t steal from comrades.

Why am I being told not to have crushes on deities. Who started this. I would like them to explain this teaching to me. I would like to be educated. And then I would encourage them to perhaps educate others more clearly on this point, because I feel that any sound logic that might have originally existed has been entirely lost.

Indeed, the witchtok deity / spirit / Power discourse is a real interesting forest. There’s definitely stuff that comes across as real and genuine and in-contact – but a lot of it really makes me wonder who taught them these things in the first place. What’s the teaching. Who told them these things.

I also wonder about this “X type of witch” conversation. I can’t tell how seriously this is taken. I don’t feel like it’s taken extremely seriously. I mean, I saw the Tumblr mood boards / aesthetic boards gain traction years ago and even though it wasn’t my thing it was fine. But I wonder if at some point people lost the distinction of it being an exercise in self-expression and thought it was a form of identity that one needed to step into in order to express legitimacy as a witch. Like, unless one was able to self-describe as “x type of witch” then one wasn’t actually a very good witch, or a very self-aware witch. And I’m here like, “there are no types of witches”. You can feel strongly connected to whatever, or feel less strongly connected to whatever, but that doesn’t identify you in any way. But maybe it does. Maybe this is one of those things that, until it’s named, I don’t see it. But the thing is, even once moon witch, sea witch, star witch, grass witch, etc. was named, I still don’t see it. These boxes are still entirely meaningless and arbitrary, another way to self-police how well I do or don’t measure up to standards that don’t actually exist. If I am, for instance, a sea witch, how much of a sea witch am I? How much of a sea witch do I need to be in order to qualify? If I stop being a sea witch, what do I become? I’m not being factitious or sarcastic – if these are categories that we’re going to genuinely and seriously use to describe ourselves in modern witchcraft, then these questions need to have serious and thoughtful answers.

There’s actually a lot more about witchtok I want to talk about. Maybe I will. Maybe I won’t. I feel like this has gone on a long time already. To be extremely clear, I don’t feel combative with the people on the platform, but I do feel confused by the information they’re sharing. Furthermore, this isn’t an age thing. Although some self-identify as baby witches (or make videos addressing baby witches), that refers to where they are in their practice, not necessarily physical age. Learning is a life-long process, and learning how to learn is really the most valuable lesson of all. (So maybe I’ll write about that someday.) This is absolutely not the olds talking to the less-olds and demanding that they account for the time they’ve been left unsupervised. I want to learn too, to recognize the blank spaces in my understanding and to listen from a stance of genuine inquiry –

and to ask, “Why do y’all use so much salt?? In all your workings, all that salt?”

Breathing and tides

It’s been more than a year since I last made a post here. Sometimes I think about this blog – not so much about making a post, but just about the fact that it’s here and that I have it, and about how I don’t like to keep things I don’t use, and then about whether I should keep the blog if I don’t use it, and then about how it might be more work to get rid of it than to keep it, and then I just forget about it because making a decision seems harder than not.

Like many of us, I’ve been busy.

I hadn’t planned on traveling to India this year, which is just as well. Last fall’s pilgrimage wiped out my financial resources. I did not anticipate having the means to make a second trip so quickly after the first but it sorta worked out and by sorta I mean that I pretended to be more able to accomplish the feat than I was probably able to. While there, both my cats suffered health set-backs, only one of which was entirely unexpected. The older one had had chronic health concerns for many years and, although they were successfully managed, I knew she was in the final stages of her life. I did not know that she would take a bad turn in the handful of days that I’d be out of the country, but she did. I arrived back and was able to spend a blessed final six weeks with her, even though no one on the ground expected that she’d last even long enough for me to return home. She did. She did. I’m nearing the anniversary of her passing.

(The other cat, thankfully, is doing quite well although arthritis has made him waddle more and leap less. Now he’s the one on medication, poor lamb. )

Something about WP changed well over a year ago (maybe 2 at this point) and I wasn’t able to successfully access it on the computer+browser I was accustomed to, and I never quite changed my habits enough to get into the rhythm of updating with a different device. I guess that’s part of the silence, one of those minute obstacles that doesn’t seem like such a big deal but when my rhythm is to update in a specific way and that way is blocked, the natural flow that would lead me to posting doesn’t happen, and so I don’t really come here that often.

Additionally, something occurred to me fairly recently about this blog and about my online presence in general – or lack thereof. Who originally told me I needed one? Why did it seem so very important that I “put myself out there”? In pagan and polytheist circles, we often go through waves of various platforms being popular, and we have a tendency to congregate within and then vacate online landscapes – I think mostly because we have a desire to remain in touch with people we feel close to, and because various online environments stop being useful or appealing. My online and off-line pagan life grew up together, by and large; the internet as we popularly know it was just getting warmed up in the mid 90s when I was discovering pagan chat rooms and Geocities websites and yup even a bunch of mailing lists (so many mailing lists).

My first pagan community as such was Livejournal and similar outlets (unless I feel like counting mailing lists and I don’t, because I didn’t really participate vocally), and I actually still know several people who I met back in those bad old days. And we migrated from there to…where? Where did we go? Different places. I can’t even remember all the platforms we’ve used to congregate online, to find each other and communicate. So it just felt natural to get a blog when we all got blogs. Polytheist with a blog – it’s such a given that it’s basically a cliche.

But it’s more than that – there’s also this deeply ingrained impulse (or self-flagellating psychological death march, if you like) to “put myself out there”, to “make myself available”, to “be visible” that is at the heart of the online marketing machine, a machine that I’ve been a reluctant part of for a long time. I have to work very hard to tie all my online presences together – public Facebook, Etsy store, Etsy store Facebook, published works, blog, etc. – and keep them fresh and updated so that people can “find me”, with the assumption that if I’m easy to find, people will choose to give me money. And I do, in fact, like having money because I do, in fact, like being able to pay rent and buy cat food. But what I don’t like is treating myself as a product and treating my community as resources to be exploited for my future gain. The psychological recoil from this is to run away, to hide, to hate myself and my work and the things I create.

And that’s not really great either, not for anyone involved.

The online marketing machine is not really any different than the dot com bubble that we saw bursting many years ago. So many people were in such an awful hurry to buy up all the virtual real estate they could imagine because there was gold in them thar domain names. And for an extremely small number, there was. For everyone else – for basically everyone, that is – there was absolutely nothing. Today, we’re encouraged to become our own brand, to commodify ourselves, because there’s nothing left to sell. There’s no other way to get rich, no other way to get into the market. It’s the perversion of self-empowerment – “you’re so valuable that people should pay to have you!”. And none of it’s real. An extremely small number might leverage personal charisma, extremely long hours, some purchased ad space, and a lot of random luck into richest – but basically everyone will ultimately fail to create meaningful yield from virtual value. Because it’s nothing. It’s the imaginary cloth sold to the kind in the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes.

I guess what I’m saying is – while there may be perfectly legitimate reasons for any number of people to create and maintain an online presence for themselves and their work (and indeed, it’s an essential part of the job for many people!), I feel like somewhere down the line I failed to distinguish whether or not I was a public or private person – that is, about what parts of my life and work were to be publicly accessible, and how, and where. I came at things with a very market(ing) driven perspective, because – like it or not – that was what I spent an awful lot of time in my professional life doing, and because online personal branding has become such a pervasive capitalistic impulse that it’s going beyond ubiquitous into hegemonic. And even though I’ve always disliked it and resisted it and fought against it, I haven’t really found an effective strategy for creating a balanced approach to addressing the need for having a professional online presence and feeling like I’m (usually, hopefully) staying away from the more exploitative aspects of trying to support my writing and art.

Which is all to say that I’m really quite shit at having “an online presence” but that there are actual reasons why and not just that I’m very private and forgetful and neglectful of tasks that I don’t want to do and don’t enjoy marketing myself and I suppose it’s more accurate to think of myself as a private polytheist who sometimes teaches and writes rather than a public polytheist, although all these reasons are important too. But I want to know why I’m shit at maintaining an online presence; it’s not good enough just to observe that I am and to know that there are things bubbling beneath the surface.

**

So I’ve been spending a lot of time this year breathing, just doing some simple meditation, which has been very good.

I’ve also been spending time observing the tides of emotion, which has also been good but not nearly as much fun.

**

I also got a new sewing machine, which as been quite exciting. I’ve been sewing, well, basically my whole life but I’ve never had a new-new sewing machine. As a teen I just used my mom’s; after my grandmother died I glommed onto hers. A number of years ago I found a basic White model at a thrift store (I know, right??!) and have used that as well. In college I was able to buy a deeply discounted floor model serger, but as far as just straight up sewing machines go – I’ve never had a new one.

I got a modern machine, an electronic/computer-driven one (as opposed to a mechanical one, which unfortunately I can no longer get in the kind of quality I want). I’m very happy with it (it’s a Juki!!), and the elderly Kenmore now gets to go into a dignified retirement. I kind of wish I had gotten a modern machine years ago, but honestly I wasn’t ready. Modern machines are different, and I’m someone for whom change is not easy, especially when it comes to changing something as intimate as a sewing machine (I sew frequently and know my machines very well).

Over the past couple years I’ve made a ton of draw-string tarot bags, and I need to photograph them for the Etsy store. There are actually lots of things I need to photograph for Etsy, but you know what? I hate taking photos of things. I really don’t like it at all. That’s why I never update the shop. I made tons and tons of things, constantly – and never update the shop. I hate taking photos. Nothing looks good. I’ve made like a few dozen bags out of really lovely reclaimed linen fabric and none of them have been listed. I really thought I’d do that this year, but I’ve actually been very busy sewing tons of other things – andnot even on the new machine, since she came into my life only fairly recently.

I sewed something like 300 cloth masks early in the year. That’s nothing compared to the people who sewed thousands and thousands. I sold a few, I gave most away. I still have fabric for a bunch and need to make up a bunch more.

I started quilting, something that I thought I’d never try. I’m feeling real glad I did now that my apartment is frigid.

And yes, I want to make tons more tarot bags, but I need to get a bunch of these sold, which means I need to photograph them – hahahahah sob.

And so I spend time observing the tides of my attention, and breath, and emotion.

When and what to sacrifice

My current browser seems to be cooperating with WP a little better, so there might be more frequent updates; we’ll see.

**

This is not a simple post to make, and I’m guaranteed to get it wrong.

**

No system of complex elements is ever going to produce optimal outcomes for every participant in that system, certainly not in every cycle of activity. While any observer, participant or not, might bring their own rule(s) of measure to the search for meaning within those systems, we should probably remember that the desire for significant experiences and meaningful connections of self with community (which can include human and non-human personalities) involves an ongoing and (hopefully) maturing quest. This trajectory will certainly include no small measure of hurt done to others, even if we don’t intend it as such. This trajectory will certainly include no small measure of hurt done to others, even when we do intend it as such.

Sometimes a participant will continue to abide in a system because, by their rule of measure, good things can be amplified over negative things. To put this in more specific terms, let’s say I choose to remain within an environment (a party perhaps, or a conference) because I thought I could help improve the good things and thereby mitigate the bad things. Maybe I thought if I just kept trying only the good things would remain, or that the harmful things would hurt less, or that the people I loved wouldn’t be so impacted, or that I could focus only on the things I enjoyed, or that others could have more fun, or that the whole experience wouldn’t be so stressful for everyone involved in cultivating what made the whole system worth fighting for in the first place.

Maybe for a while it was like panning for gold – like the glittering flakes were worth more than the human capital of sweat and pain and toil. Maybe the euphoria made the extraction costs easy to ignore for a while. I didn’t taste the mine tailings leaking into my internal rivers until I’d retreat to private rooms, hear the things said to Black and Brown friends, to my trans siblings, reflect on things said to me; wrap myself in a weighted blanket of discontent all through the flight, wondering if I was the asshole, if I was the one with the problem when it seemed like everyone else what having a good time only to find out later that no, lots of other people were angry too, they just hadn’t said anything either (or they had and were ignored); come home and unpack the many ways I had failed, then sit with my shame for months until I talked myself out of it or committed to grow with it, and decide to do it again and this time do it better.

Eventually it wasn’t like panning for gold – a simple exchange of my personal human capital for euphoria. Eventually it was like extracting tar sands – a resource-intensive extraction process that would never pay out more than I put in.

**

Look – I love PantheaCon. I love seeing people that I *maybe* see once a year, tops. I love getting to share my knowledge with people, getting to talk to people one on one, getting to smile and nod at people in the hallways, getting to smell the trees, getting to see the California sky, getting to see the ravens and the squirrels and the Bay as I fly in. I love spending money I don’t really have to spend on books and scented candles and probably some incense, too. I like finding out about who’s presenting for the first time and who’s come back with some brand new material. I love encouraging people to try their hand at presenting. I get so excited to meet people who have come to PCon for the first time and I’m in awe of those who have been coming since Year One. I spend way more time in hospitality suites and just talking with people than I do in formal programming; that’s how I’ve discovered I like to do PCon. I get way excited about the clothing exchanges and the caucuses and the meetups all the other ways we get to connect with each other – all the ways that we might not have expected to even though we’ve chosen to come together under one roof, at one time. I always come home with a lot of flyers and postcards from the info tables. It’s amazing to meet people I super admire and they’re all like, “oh wow it’s so amazing to meet you!” and I just stand there flapping and I just mumble “oh hey can I buy your book pls?”

The good things about PantheaCon are great. The great things about PantheaCon are amazing. People have mind-blowing experiences at some of those rituals; they might change their entire spiritual trajectory because of something that happens over the course of that February weekend, who knows?

I want these things to happen. I believe in these things happening. I’ve tried hard to do my small part in facilitating positive things happening at PCon, and hopefully I’ve accomplished that. I sincerely hope I haven’t made anything negative happen. If I have, I genuinely and truly apologize. While that certainly wouldn’t have been my intention, I recognize that that was my impact, and I hope this apology goes some way towards addressing that.

However – the drawbacks to PantheaCon are rough. They’ve certainly been addressed in much better ways in other places; those are the voices that need to be listened to. Many POC, QPOC, and trans people associated with PCon for many years have spoken in detail about hostility and marginalization they experience on individual and collective levels. Although small victories seem to be made, on a macro level things do not improve.

I am trans, though may not be as visibly so as some of my siblings. I am of mixed heritage, though pass as white. I’m part of contested religious minorities even within polytheism. If I’ve encountered marginalization (and I have), then how much harder is it for others? You shouldn’t have to have me saying these things for you to believe them.

**

For many years, I chose to continually sacrifice my labor, my finances, my intellectual capital, and my emotional resilience to helping PCon happen. And in many ways I’m absolutely glad I did. It was frequently an amazing experience that helped me grow as a person, as a teacher, and as a practitioner. No one forced me to do it, this isn’t a sob story, a poor me story. PCon isn’t an event that happens without sacrifice.  The people who make it happen deserve thanks – this includes the attendees. After all, a party doesn’t happen if no one shows up.

It felt, well, noble for a while. It felt good to make this sacrifice again and again. Yes, it cost me an awful lot of money (virtually no presenters are helped with travel expenses or reimbursed in any manner; all expenses are on their shoulders), but I justified it over and over again, even as I left in emotional distress and anger. At least I got to see my friends – right? Well, I got to see my friends cry.

**

I’ve chosen to sit out PantheaCon 2020. I didn’t apply to present, and I’m not going to try my luck at the room lottery or make reservations in neighboring hotels or book a flight specifically for the event. For me, it’s a bit of a deliberate protest, but not a very loud one. I don’t think anyone will even notice I’m not there. I’m just tired of throwing myself in the fire. Loki’s lessons have a lot to do with sacrifice, and I guess I need to finally pay attention to when I’m playing the martyr. Who am I laboring to serve, and do those forces really love the person I actually am? Who am I laboring to serve, and do those forces really love the people I say I love?

Plus I’m like super broke because I’ll be spending all my money going on pilgrimage to India again. I thought I could do both in fall 2018/spring 2019 and ugh. Didn’t work out as well as I thought it would. With any luck I’ll have a chance to do some more online conferences or something like that where I don’t have to leave home or wear pants.

(ETA: I should probably add that I really don’t care what other people do or choose. This isn’t a call-out post or a persuasive essay or anything like that. This is the linguistic expression of a thought process that’s been several months – several years, even – in the making. This is highly personal. It’s about the process I’ve been going through about the choices I want to make. What you choose to do with your resources – your money, your time, your human capital – is entirely up to you. )

Private sorrows, future perceptions

This weekend I was talking with a friend about the experience of being alone. I had just come out of a nearly-eight hour trip to a nearby hospital emergency room because I’d been struggling to breathe. Fears of rapidly progressing pneumonia and even blood clots were eventually ruled out, thankfully; I had some unidentified viral crud and no one could properly tell me why I couldn’t breathe. I’m slowly getting better but it’s going to be a long crawl back to whatever passes for normal in my world.

Unlike a sister and a number of friends and acquaintances, I’ve never had asthma or other breathing problems. The isolating, occasionally frantic feeling that descended on me as I just lay there day after day, hour after hour making the increasingly grand effort of just, like, inhaling was unfamiliar. Rationally, I knew I was fine. The ER’s blood oxygen monitor gave optimal readings, and so did all the other gadgets. I just struggled to breathe normally; I was exhausted all the time. My body felt heavy. I couldn’t think clearly and during the worst of it I felt distractingly light-headed. I just stared at the wall a lot, disinterested in everything.

By good fortune, my friend happened to be in town and she was able to rescue me from the ER. We had some meals together and talked a lot. Well, I tried frequently to talk, but finally just shut up and let her have some space to speak. I’ve thought a lot about what my friend said about her own experiences of alone-ness. Not loneliness exactly, but the experience of being alone. Even when she talks to people, she feels alone. She feels alone in her marriage, alone in her friendships, alone in her spiritual life, alone in being taken seriously in her fears, her ambitions, her desires. And I know this isn’t anything new for her. This alone-ness is something she has struggled with for a long time, without any way to resolve it. Even articulating it in a specific manner has, I think, been difficult.

There are many things – most things, actually – about her particular experience of alone-ness that I won’t ever understand, and not just because we are quite different people in the choices we have made and in the way we have sought to be unalone. However, I got a reminder not too long ago about a lesson I was confronted by in my own path: That there is no pain we might experience that is truly unique in the human condition. That is: We are not so very special that we are going to experience something that no one has never felt before. Or perhaps: We are not alone in our pain.

Although we might be alone in living through whatever experience we currently find ourselves in, it’s helpful to remember that know that others have been here before. No matter how isolating or complicated or hard to articulate our experiences might be – and they no doubt absolutely are! – there can be some comfort (maybe) in knowing, however abstractly, that we are not truly alone (even if we wrestle with the truth-in-feeling that we are).

There can also be a measure of humility that must be grappled with when reaching for the truth that our pain is not so very unique after all. Like the adolescent who will (hopefully) eventually come to understand that their emotional torment is, in fact, shared with virtually every other person who has ever lived through that stage of life and later shrugs with a bit of chagrin, the maturing spiritual practitioner also (hopefully) gains a similar type of insight into the various aches, burns, and torsions that we undergo.

Which isn’t to say I’ve learned my lessons all that well. I still nurse a pretty stubborn grudge about some personal pain. Despite doing quite a bit of work on this count, the resentment still resists letting go and settling into the past. I still hold onto it as a *personal* pain, something that belongs to *me*, something that characterizes *me*, rather than something that I have merely experienced and that is therefore shared across space and time, and that I have no particular claim over. So simply knowing the beats of the lesson is not necessarily the same as having internalized it to the point of being able to apply it in all circumstances. I’m working on it.

I know this is something others struggle with – both because I hear others say so and because I struggle with it directly myself (and I know that I cannot be alone in these things). Personalizing pain, identifying with it, and making it a key part of one’s struggle and quest for identity is….well, I suppose if it provides some vast insight into that personal luminous space, that cave of the heart, that light before light and that prism beyond words, I guess you do you. But the problem with identifying with one’s pain and the answers to the questions that arise from it is that there will always be more of all of it. There will always be more people to hurt you; there will always be shifting answers to questions like, “why did this happen?”, “why did it happen this way?”, “why can’t I have what others have?”, and “what did I do wrong?”. Even though I do rather reject the notion of some kind of concrete essential self that can be meaningfully described with words in a manner that is consistently useful, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with having a shifting sense of self, I just think it’s also helpful to be discerning about what sources one uses to draw conclusions about oneself. Painful circumstances, especially those circumstances brought about by extremely shitty factors and perhaps then compounded by one’s own unhelpfully argumentative, contrary, belittling, and/or petty psychology, are probably not the most helpful sources from which to draw any meaningful conclusions about one’s self – for the short or long term. So, you know, maybe don’t. Or try not to.

Of course, all this is much easier said than done (as I mentioned above, I struggle with it myself to no small degree). Even talking about our pain to reassure ourselves and others that we’re not alone in these things is not at all easy – and isn’t necessarily the best, or correct, or necessary, solution to this basic existential loneliness experienced in (spiritual) life. It’s all very easy to say “oh let’s all go get therapy” when that’s also not necessarily the best, or correct, or easy solution to this (and some of us may not even feel it necessary, I don’t know). There was a brief time when spirit workers tried to minister to each other, and no doubt some of us probably still do, but it was a cluster fuck that no degree of Physician Heal Thyself could fully correct (so I don’t necessary think that that’s the correct solution, either).

I suppose I keep coming back to the Buddhist idea that we possess within ourselves the capacity to overcome our suffering, even as we also possess within ourselves the capacity to inflict upon ourselves extreme suffering. We are also capable of helping and hurting others along the way; there are always choices we can make, even if we might find that the menu of options is being constantly rearranged based on past actions and current perceptions.

I guess it’s pretty obvious I don’t have a clearly spelled-out solution, even if I’ve been able to discern something resembling a dim path forward for myself out of this very fundamental problem with the experience of private pain and the loneliness arising therefrom. I’m hesitant to say what it is, or what it has been, because I’m not exactly sure myself – but I’m entirely confident in your – yes, *your* – ability to work it out for yourself.

So – here’s to giving myself new future, past actions by shaping some new current perceptions I suppose. Here’s to trying to grip some pain with just a little less self-identification.

So mote it be.

 

Patience with the broken things

Almost a week ago, some dearly beloved deities left me.

 I knew this was coming, but the time table I had in mind turned out to be not what They had in mind. The date of Their leaving was sooner than I thought, and so I had to show up looking my very best and watch as a complex ceremony marked a firm division between the private, playful time I had spent with Them, and the formal, rules-bound time I would spend with Them from now on.

 And my stupid heart broke because I felt like They were leaving me. Even as They were invoked more fully into my communal midst, I craved only the loose and unstructured moments I had spent in Their company. I felt like a child whose friends were moving away; I was irrationally jealous of the new school I knew they would have, the new friends who would certainly be more fun than me, the new home that would definitely be larger and more interesting and that I’d probably never get to visit because I was sure to be forgotten. I resented the forces that took my friends away even though I knew that they had very important jobs to do. I was so sad I cried all day, cried until my contact lenses stopped letting me see clearly. A few days later I was still crying, this time in a mixture of sadness and free-floating anger. I didn’t even know who I was angry at – mostly at Them, I suppose, angry that They couldn’t stay and be my playful carefree friends forever, that They were soooo important that They could give me nothing, no reassurance of company or remembrance or consideration. 

But really, sulked my bitter little heart, what did I really expect? “O listen, dear! | Your Tomorrow became a today | with other women.” I have no claim on the affections or attentions of the gods, and yet every scrap of logic or reason I tossed at my emotional distress was quite useless. I couldn’t find any comfort. I knew I would simply feel bad until I stopped.  

Last night I finally realized that there was no small measure of arrogance inside my anger and sadness. Yes, obviously it’s legitimate to feel angry and sad when one feels left behind or ignored; yes; it’s quite legitimate to have emotional reactions within relationships. But it can be helpful to understand *why* reactions are taking place, especially if the reactions are rooted in misplaced beliefs or assumptions, or in unhealthy egoic beliefs, or other psychological issues. For me, one of my perpetual issues is fear of abandonment and the deep-rooted belief that I’ll always eventually be abandoned. This leads to a rather shaky ego integrity; I tend to overcompensate, trying to make myself invaluable, trying to seek praise and assurances of love and gratitude from others even in venues where such things are not really appropriate, or even necessary on an ongoing basis (because shouldn’t I just be able to trust that I’m loved and appreciated? I’m incapable of doing so? Well, that might be a personal problem then because it’s not everyone’s job to assure me of such things). Because, just maybe, if people declare that they truly do love and appreciate me, they won’t be in such a damned rush to ditch me. Trouble is, I never actually believe them when they do assure me, so we’re always stuck in a damned quandary.

 One of the challenges I’ve had with the gods – and with Loki in particular – is trusting that *I* can be loved and appreciated while others are also loved and appreciated. That is, I always doubted that I was at all cared about with anything approaching the same magnitude that He seemed to care for others. I didn’t believe anything He said to me, even though I pleaded for words and gestures of affection. I’d be heartbroken and full of doubt when I couldn’t find Him in my life, except that I’d be endlessly second-guessing myself and Him when He was around. This went on FOR YEARS. Like, I might roll my eyes and grit my teeth at people who seem to need endless assurance about divination or omens or whatever that Himself is in communication with them but I was at least as bad. I had zero ego integrity when it came to anything related to Him and our relationship. I had been so beaten down by myself, by life, by past abuse and trauma, and by the inherent stress of being 22 and out of my mind that I really couldn’t see that a lot of these issues were self-created, or at least self-perpetuated.

 It took a long-ass time to grow an emotional backbone of sufficient strength to be OK with different relationships existing in different states at the very same time. Because I looked like a goddamn basket case worrying about the state of relationships that weren’t my own – and even though this wasn’t exactly what was happening in the past handful of days, I still had to confront the specter of arrogance inside me.  

See – a devotee of any Power that exists in a shared field with any other devotee (say, like a god or other well-known spirit, not like a personal ancestral Power but maybe even then to a much more limited degree), is likely to get fucked up if they can’t cope with the idea of that Power having private time with other people. They share unique and complex expressions of relationship with each of us; They have to, in order to suit our often highly individual needs. Although some of our interactions and experiences will line up in interesting and perhaps even meaningful patterns, many will not and we have to be OK with that, and not worry about that or second-guess ourselves or prod too much at one another. This kind of egoic integrity takes some time to grow; experience with a Power helps. Talking to lots of people can help, too. (Or maybe it hurts. Depends on who you are, I suppose. Some people flourish best in private. We have to come to recognize that about ourselves – and others! – and allow for the space with gracefulness.)

 I was finally able to recognize that although I did have some genuine, healthy relational connections that were suffering appropriate sadness as I went through a transition period with these Powers, I was also suffering reactivity from some unhelpful arrogance. Thankfully the worst of the distress only lasted a handful of days; it could have lasted quite a bit longer but even so I’ve been quite grumpy and unhappy in a way I really dislike being. There is absolutely no place for arrogance in relationships with the Powers, because what kind of contest or race do I imagine I’m in? Who am I trying to impress? Who am I showing off for? If any of my energy is spent on showboating, then I’m taking away from the attention I should be spending trying to improving my connecting with Them – and that certainly does not impress. In this case, these Powers were absolutely right to let me feel some pointed separation. Loki just tends to fuck off and leave me stew for months at a time until I get over my bad self.

 It’s rather like the difference between cultivating a witchcraft practice that is magically potent or one that simply looks good on social media. One that’s magically potent lets you actually accomplish your goals and keeps you in balance with the forces you’re working with. Sure, you might have some cool tools and you might even meet some cool people along the way, but the point is something else entirely. The other one is all about social capitol. You’re always worried about what other people are doing, about what shiny objects are trending, and about how your own feed fits into various niches. Actually accomplishing anything magically becomes secondary (or tertiary!) to a e s t h e t i c.

 So I dunno – I’m glad for the growth opportunity, but it always sucks to trip over my own shoelaces, especially when it seems like these are lessons I should have learned already. Just goes to show that there are lessons that have a tendency to always show up in new guises, and that deep fractures of the self are going to show up wherever we encounter the Work. It’s a good thing we are not rejected; it’s a good thing I’m met only with patience.

And have I been left? Of course not. In fact, I was told quite directly that I have no idea what the future holds. While I might be experiencing this particular emotional reality at this moment, and it certainly has its own validity and legitimacy (colored with misplaced ego constrictions or not), it will not last and it will be replaced with something new for me to experience. I will be able to explore some new unfolding territory of relational reality with these particular Powers. It could be sweet; it could be quite terrifying. I have no idea really. No idea at all. But They’ll be with me, and so will He, so I suppose it’ll all be alright if only because we’ve come this far together and survived. I trust Him. And slowly, slowly, I’m coming to trust myself.

Have you registered for LokiFest?

LokiFest is coming up, and as the event has developed the on-the-ground portion of the celebration has unfortunately been dropped. As I understand it, logistical complications like municipal approvals, insurance policies, etc. didn’t quite come together. Nonetheless – the free online conference is going forward, and promises to have some interesting material from interesting presenters.

To participate as an attendee, all you need to do is register. Follow this link, enter some basic information, and you’ll receive registration confirmation shortly. If you have questions, contact the organizer via the email address on the flyer.

LokiFest ONLINE Best Flyer

 

Presenting at Loki Fest 2019

Hey all – I know things have been super quiet here lately. Full time employment kicks my ass, as do all the side gigs and chronic health issues and aging cats and family stuff and all the rest that’s involved in just maintaining the meat.

In the midst of all this though I’m excited to be presenting at an online conference later this summer! This means that not only do people in this hemisphere have no excuse for not showing up, it means that I’m not required to wear pants for the occasion (no promises either way, though).

The online conference is FREE; you just need to register. The info is on the flyer, or email the organizer (also on the flyer). It’s all on the flyer. I’m just presenting, I can’t tell you loads about registering or getting there or anything. If you’re in California, there will be a weekend of rituals and celebrations. It’s a scent-free event that will take place (in part) in a public park. Again, contact the organizer for information.

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What am I presenting? It’s called Sweet Idolatry, and it’s all about venerable images. This is a new conference session that I brought to PantheaCon 2019 (San Jose) and SpiritCon 2019 (Salt Lake City), and will be revising and improving with additional material specifically for Loki Fest. It’ll be good. I have lots of pictures.

Recognizing hang-ups in my sacred relationships

While listening through a back episode of the Satsang With Shambhavi podcast on appropriate relationships, a very important question was raised. To paraphrase, she asked why we love who we love. If the only answer we could come up with was about us and about how we feel, and not about the one we love, then we’re ultimately making that other person into an object that satisfies some need of ours and not actually appreciating them as an individual full of qualities that are loveable regardless of how we feel. (Again, I’m paraphrasing. You may enjoy hearing her explanation for yourself in an episode called Dharmic Relating and Appreciation.)

Although Shambhavi was speaking from within her own tradition and that context certainly needs to be respected, I found some applicable wisdom there that really made me review some things in my own relational dynamics. I know I hang on fiercely to my sacred relationships, and still experience fear and anxiety rising out of unresolved emotional baggage – baggage that the Powers really don’t deserve to have hauled onto Their doorsteps day after day. Even though the only thing I am actually capable of offering is myself, I do have a certain obligation to make sure that this offering is as good as I can make it. I can be humble in acknowledging the need for improvement while also being brave in its pursuit.

Sure, some days all I’m capable of is dropping some incense on the altar, offering respects, and saying, “Maa, this is all I am.” There are days when I’m too tired, too heartsick, too drawn out to even take refuge in the practice. All I can do is present myself as I am. All I can focus on is how I’m feeling, and I trust that even this is accepted.

All the same, I can’t even think of the number of times when I’ve resisted various shifts and moods in my primary spiritual relationship(s) just because I’m scared of how I’m going to feel as a result, or what’s going to happen to me. For all the times that I’ve bravely and happily leaned into change (or not so bravely and not so happily!) there have been at least as many times when I’ve begged the process to stop.

I can readily admit that no small part of this not-so-occasional resistance and reluctance is based in various traumas and abuses, as well as all kinds of psychological pitfalls that have developed over a lifetime of not-so-very-gentle treatment. And yes, I can also admit that one cannot force oneself out of these traumas and abuses and psychological pitfalls just by dint of wanting to, or just because one decides that one’s adopted piety is going to be stronger than deep-seated anxieties. You can’t strongarm yourself into suddenly becoming a whole and healthy human being, but you can certainly bully yourself into repressing your shit for another few years and mistaking that for healing.

Even after having gone through a lot of personal growth and relational improvement with our supportive and beloved Powers, we’re going to find a lot of blind spots. I still find myself focused a lot on how I feel within one relationship in particular instead of focusing on what about Them is so loveable and how I can celebrate that. I still find myself focused on clinging to the facets of the relationship that I feel reasonably secure about getting a positive message from – that message being basically, “you’re loved! you’re safe! you’re accepted!” See, even after all this time, there are Powers in my life that I fear will leave – and once again this has nothing to do with Them and everything to do with ME and about how I feel. Because even though I trust Them, I fundamentally feel that I am unworthy of love. Even though They have never left me behind, I fundamentally believe that I will always be abandoned. And so I keep hauling this baggage into my relational dynamics. I’m scared to move past this stage even as I ask for deepening knowledge and experience.

Of course, none of this is to say that we need to stay in abusive relationships with Powers or people. Recognizing abusive dynamics is extremely important, and people who have experienced abuse all too often explain away their emotional experiences by finding ways to justify the abusive party’s actions. However, it’s important to recognize that the subtle objectification that occurs when we allow ourselves to utilize another person or Power as a way to fulfill an emotional need, we are opening the door for an abusive dynamic to potentially occur. Even if explicit abuse does not occur, a relationship will still certainly fail if the parties in a relationship characterized by this kind of emotional objectification don’t correct the problem. To use a crude metaphor, emotional objectification is a bit like using a masturbatory aid for one’s emotional gratification; the other person is there to help you feel full of gooey, loving emotions – and it’s quite obviously problematic if there isn’t a lot of sharing-alike of those gooey, loving feelings in return.

Also, none of this isn’t to say that we shouldn’t feel good in the relationships and contexts that we are in. It is entirely natural to desire positive emotional feedback from the practice traditions we’ve chosen to adopt and the Powers we are in relationship with. What’s problematic is desiring this positive emotional feedback without examining why we want it, or how  we go about getting it, or what we do as a result of not getting it. Examining our thoughts about the relationships we’re in and why we tend to drift away from things when the gooey feelings run out is important. Are we really only in a tradition for the next rush of brain chemicals? Are we really only pursuing a sacred relationship in order to feel that rush of love? Feeling those rushes aren’t intrinsically bad or negative. We have to determine for ourselves how ethical we are being – to ourselves and others! – as we go about pursing those rushes. We have to determine for ourselves if there are simpler, more straightforward, less costly ways of achieving the desired emotional end.

I *don’t* want abusive dynamics in any of my relationships. I *do* want to explicitly recognize and celebrate the features in my relational partners that are so very worthy of appreciation. I *don’t* want to just focus on how I feel in these relationships. I *do* want to think about how I can make my sacred Beloved happy. I *do* want to go beyond the fears and anxieties I’ve drug around with me my whole damn life. It’s hard, though. I suppose it’s absolutely some of the hardest work any of us can ever do.