[Community] Many Gods West 2016 Write-Up

Over this past weekend I found myself in Olympia, WA. The world was green and rivers stretched to and fro. The first night I arrived – after twelve hours of travel and my ears having been thoroughly abused – I walked from the hotel to downtown Olympia. I gazed in awe at the river flowing solidly along the path. There were many people out running and walking and playing Pokemon Go. Everything was painfully green, all different shades, and some trees even had orange-tinted leaves.

A half-day before I had been enveloped in the dawn heat of Tucson, so it was rather a change.

There have been a variety of well-written write-ups about the specific of the conference. Some can be found in the ‘polytheism’ tag on WordPress, while others are scattered across Patheos. I thought the conference was a huge success. There was laughter were I didn’t expect it, somberness when necessary, and lots of learning. I felt blessed to meet many of the people I did. 

I attended a variety of the presentations and rituals. By far the most touching ritual I attended was the Rhiannon ritual, which had me breaking down in tears. I was amazed by the people leading the ritual as well – Phoenix LeFae and Gwion Raven – as they were incredibly, well, good. After their ritual I attended the Dionysian Revival, put on by Jason Mankey and his wife Ari. I was reminded why I am not the ecstatic ritual sort, at least in public. The best way to describe my energetic reaction is ‘awkward laughing’; my physical reaction is ‘awkwardly standing’. The other option was the Community Tea Room. Excellent as it was, this was Friday night and I wanted a bit of energy to get me through the weekend. 

The Community Tea Room was very seriously wonderful and I wish I had spent more time there. The Saturday evening, however, I was completely knocked out after visiting the Asklepios Healing Shrine room. I was able to attend the Antinoan Ritual that evening, put on by the Ekklesia Antinoou. It reminded me, powerfully, why I hold interested in Antinous, as well as I why I do worship him and his related gods.

Both Sunday presentations/panels were engrossing. Emily Carlin and Raye Schwarz put on a talk on ‘Ritual Co-Creation’ which illuminated how to make groups with myriad of traditions work. It gave me hope for how to go forward in my own local community. Alley Valkyrie and Ryan Smith’s talk on fascism was absolutely illuminating, and it helped further my understanding of some deep differences in Europe and the UK vs. US paganism and polytheism. I had wanted to attending the Ritual of Grieving, but I was presenting at that time. I went to the Disability & Polytheism talk afterward, and though I hopefully remained more composed externally, I was internally nodding my head constantly. Phaedrus, who presented the talk, was engaging and I learned quite a bit. Or, perhaps, was reminded of quite a bit and given words to express what I’d known.

The closing ritual was quite different from the opening in terms of size. This wasn’t bad, necessarily, but it did throw me a bit. Sean Donahue had conducted both the opening and ending rituals, and both were lovely. 

For my own presentation, which was on the Otherfaith, it was very small. I had already been expecting a small crowd, as my presentation was right after lunch and check-out of the hotel. I tried to take a friendly approach to discussing everything, which was interesting. It was an invaluable learning experience. I wish I had gotten my physical materials together in time, but life doesn’t always allow. 

I must extend immense gratitude to Niki Whiting and Syren Nagakyrie for putting the conference together. I sincerely hope Many Gods West continues strong for many years, partially since I’m not sure I will be able to make it next year! I would also like to attend with my partner. That was simply not in the cards this year. (I may also want to cosplay when I attend next. That surely shows how impious and silly I am.) I was able to meet so many people I had only ‘heard’ of or met ‘online’. Putting faces to them did make a difference. It didn’t dissolve every issue or disagreement. But it certainly reminded me how incredible and human the people in the pagan and polytheist blogosphere and online communities are as well as how much bigger we are offline.

There were times when I could feel my gods swirling about me during the conference. During the Rhiannon ritual I felt her speak to me a name my own gods tell me. She gave me advice I should listen to as well, but when it comes to compassionate advice I tend to resist it. Pallis, the Dierne, was practically rolling on the ground in front of me during one ritual. It seemed all my attendent gods and spirits kept near me and didn’t go flying out bothering people, though. 

I cried more than I would have preferred – during ritual and at other times – but as I mentioned during one of the many conversations I shoved myself into, I cry. I cry when I’m sad, I cry when I’m happy, I cry when I’m angry. (No doubt to the shame of the spirits I train directly under.) But it was a good conference. I really, truly hope we see MGW continue and grow.

[Friday] Hell Month

​The clouds break on the first day of Hell Month. The sky is painfully, powerfully blue against the grey thunderstorms moving to the east. I woke to the sound of the rain pummeling our home. Against our duplex the drops sounded like rolling thunder. 

The nights before I had driven almost endlessly to the edges of the city. The eastside, where I now reside, had faded from businesses and lights to the foothills of the Catalina Mountains. I was captivated and captive to the lightning playing against the dark sky. The strikes illuminated the mountains in brief and beautiful seconds. Someone was parked on the side of the road and had a tripod set up for his camera. He was photographing the light show streaking across the sky. 

I drove to the end of the road, until a yellow sign read ‘Dead End’ – though more appropriately it had simply become a dirt path – and swerved the car back around. The clouds to the south were tinted red with the lights of the city. I had hated that red sky during my teenage years. 

I had hated everything about Tucson. She wasn’t like my beloved Seattle. Seattle was green and wet year-round. The ocean bumped up against that rainy city. There was even a city under the city. What magic! What mystery. And my beloved family lived up there. 

Now, apart from my immediate family of mother and father and paternal grandparent, the entirety of my family does live up there. I haven’t seen them for three years. Every day a gnawing hunger roots around in my belly, asking whether they truly are my family. They are, after all, the grandparents and aunts and uncles on my step father’s side, and he stopped being a step father when my mother divorced. I think of writing to them and never send mail. I’m too afraid. 

I don’t hold hate for Tucson anymore. I may complain of her, certainly. She is a hot and sweaty city. At times she is dying and falling into disrepair. At others, though, she is magnificently alive. The sounds of downtown on the weekends are so familiar and warming. Memories of parking myself in the last smoking café and going through too many cigarettes fill me during late nights, especially when it rains. I have never been a frequenter of bars, but I love the sounds as the city parties. 

The city is not partying at the start of Hell Month. The city roasts. The clouds part and the mesquite seed pods lay under their parents, rotting a foul stench in the wet heat. I gag at it. Decades of growing in Tucson have not inoculated me to the scent after rain. I look up at the sky after dropping my spouse off at school and feel all is right with the world, apart from the early rains. All is right in my world. 

Hell Month was a holy month that cooked up shortly after Reunion came about. I knew, in around February or March after the first Reunion, that the Dierne was deified at the end of July. I didn’t truly grasp the entire month of hell until later, and I would have to search through my notebooks to find a specific date of revelation. Most likely those notes have been lost anyway. Even though I have softened my anxiety of private writings being read by those I don’t wish, I still habitually rid myself of all manner of things and most especially my older writing. The writing of the early twenty-teens is bearable, at the least. 

Story wise, the gods are absent from the West during July. I don’t think that’s exactly true. The spirits still interact with them. We can still interact with the gods, though in some stories they go off and adventure in our world during Hell Month. Like Reunion, when they take on more benevolent forms, they adopt different forms during this month. The gods of love remind me of shattered glass. the Clarene becomes bedrock solid and the Ophelia turns to piercing icicles. 

I don’t know what to expect of this month yet. Perhaps more of the same that 2016 has dished out.

[Friday] Reflection and Contemplation

I pray to the godly and inhuman. The ancient whales. The almost-immortal tardigrade. I pray to the sweet thunder storm that soothed the heat of this June sun. I pray to the god of rats, who is rat, and I pray to the gods and spirits of all unlike myself. Not gods with animal heads and bodies. Gods and spirits entirely other. No human language sprouts from their lips.

I pray to the deer that spots me as I hike in the Sabino Canyon and watches, attentive. I pray to the small gila monster that slithers beside my classmates and I as we are young children.

I pray to the chemicals that make up our entirety. Holy sun and holy gas. Beloved laws of physics and dizzying quantum mechanics.

And I pray because it fulfills me. I remind myself of what is outside me. I am part of the flow. I am part of this universe. I don’t pray thinking I may sway gravity in my favor. I pray to gravity to remind myself:

There are more than gods.

I pray to the gods of the animals and plants and lands to remind myself:

Humans aren’t the only ones in this world.

But even praying like this it a selfish act.

It’s comfortable not having to do anything.

Prayer so often seems like doing nothing. And in place of action it is equitable to thought in all its effectiveness. I can pray for the places I love to be conserved and preserved, but that doesn’t mean much if I do not pursue conservation. I can love my spouse very much, but it may be difficult for him to feel that love if the house is left a wreck after he’s worked all day and I’ve lazed at home.

At the same, prayer is not nothing to me. I desire prayer to be the start of my day. By praying to the Four Gods, I begin on the right foot. I incorporate patience and gentleness. I start my day with stillness. That is the attitude I wish to carry as I go through the day.

Left to my own devices – my own devices meaning all on my own, without medication as well – I am a grump. With a combination of scheduling my day, actually getting sleep, and medication, I find myself returning to the stillness I know is within. I don’t feel the need to obscure my shyness with standoffish-ness.

I’m still figuring out how to be authentically, openly hurt and sad instead of smothering those emotions with anger. That is a longer process.

The gods are part of this process. I do not believe they are guiding it. The time when they had a more direct hand has passed. Instead of confronting them in the swelling sea of turbulent mental illness, I confront them in the kitchen.

I stare down at dirty dishes and rub my face and sense the Clarene. I imagine her chuckling under her breath as she sits comfortably in the rocking chair of her home. She knits away while I stand and stare and try to motivate myself.

“Domesticity suits you,” she says.

“If only I looked more domestic,” I muse.

She laughs again. “You all are so obsessed with appearance. Just get your hands dirty and start cleaning. You’ll enjoy it.”

She’s not incorrect. I do enjoy cleaning, when I can convince myself to do it. I enjoy keeping house. I can cook and clean, I’m learning to knit and sew, and decorating is almost always on my mind. My house may be a wreck, may be a bit more unloved than I’d like, but my soul finds comfort in the domestic.

I think, tonight, I will get down to such business properly and lovingly.

I will take that attitude into my life, whether I am cleaning dishes or getting back into activism.

[Friday] Briefly on Gender

Gender is a complex entirety. It is not simply a topic, it is lived experience. It is social and personal and many things. It may tie into our sexuality (or lack thereof) or not.

My own gender is a fluid, amorphous creature. I am of two selves, the masculine and feminine. The words don’t encompass the truth of them. During my younger years I saw them as two distinct beings. There was the softer, kinder piece of me who had been locked away. The other me was confident, far prouder in himself, but he had to hold all the nerves that the other one had.

I don’t conceive of myselves as different parts somewhat outside my own person anymore. Nor have they combined, however. I am a boy and a girl, or, more accurately, a creature that dons my idea of ‘boy’ and ‘girl’.

My mother once gave me a sticker with an image of a blender blending ‘gender’ up in it. It is pasted to a folder that houses my more personal writings. That is the kind of mother I have. A good one.

I am lucky. I may not be able to find clothes in my size most of the time and struggle with truly accepting my own body, but I am lucky. I can navigate my worlds with ease. I was born with a vagina and a labia and a uterus, even if I sometimes resent that last one and the plumbing doesn’t work right. When I talk about gender variance and being a boy sometimes, I am not seen as a threat. I have a lack of privileges and an overflowing fist full of them, all at once.

Transphobia has been part of my life. But there are people whom transphobia affects much more. People for whom hatred for them costs them their life.

That saying, that women fear men will kill them – it applies to trans people. Especially trans women. And it isn’t just men that will kill trans individuals. Women will eagerly hop on the train to antagonize, abuse, and kill trans people. Especially trans women.

Trans women are women. They are people.

I know that there are people who don’t think either of those are true. Ideally, whether or not you view someone as a person shouldn’t have an impact on their life and safety. If you think someone is less than a person, if you want to indulge in the behavior of actual babies and toddlers, your behavior and rhetoric should be treated like the childish tantrum it is.

I haven’t been truly angry about much happening online this year. Hurt, confused, baffled, and tired by it all, yes. Anger and rage feel like emotions for years ago, when I had the energy for it. Back before my brain finished and I was able to turn to flesh and blood and a warm bed with my spouse. I don’t know that I am angry now.

I’m disgusted, though. I’m disgusted that people who are part of the Pagan community are insisting on promoting hate speech and hurting people. I’m disgusted that major Pagan institutions are supporting them and comparing criticism of hate speech to death threats. I’m disgusted that being friends with someone is seemingly reason enough to ignore when they are intentionally, purposefully, repeatedly promoting hate,

Simply saying that you don’t support hate speech is easy. Telling someone to stop hurting another person is easy. Standing up can be hard, can put us in someone’s crosshairs. But at the end of the day, it is always the right decision.

Do the right thing. Tell the truth. And stand with those who need it.

As a final note, trans women are people. And they are women.

[Pagan Experience] Knowing

This is part of the Pagan Experience 2016 prompts. EAch month brings a new prompt with options for alphabetical weekly prompts tied to the monthly topic. For this blog, I’ll be doing a monthly post on the associated topic.

Warnings this month for weird self-exploration, weird gender stuff, talk of suicide and depression, weird metaphors for the self, and a lack of conclusion to any of it.

I meditate – visualize – journey – to the inside of myself. There lays part of me, curled in on herself and cloaked with wild curls. She sniffs that tearful sniff all children master. I kneel down to her level.

She insults me immediately.

This is me as spiritually conceptualized, spiritual manifest, between the ages of when-I-can-remember and twelve. The me that is me is from twelve onward. I’m clad in a baseball-style shirt and jeans that rub against my thighs in threat of ripping. I poke my not-really-real baseball cap up to get a better look at the girl below me. She is, fittingly, unclothed. I wouldn’t expect a representation of childhood, trauma, hope, and loss to be wrapped up all nicely.

When I pick her up – metaphorically – she kicks and shrieks. She wails. She tells me how much she hates me and goes on and on. I don’t even move. I just stand there with myself slung over my shoulder. I wait until she has exhausted herself completely and then toss her back down, and now she’s all grown up but her hair is comparably bigger. Like a damn shield. She even grabs fistfuls of it and hides her face from me. 

“You literally look like me,” I point out.

“Well, you’re ugly!” she retorts. She kicks her legs up. 

My patience for myself snaps, already thin.

“Get over it,” I mutter. “Get the fuck over it.”

She throws mud in my face.

It’s been a while since I’ve gone diving into myself like this.

Twelve

I could say the whole problem starts when I try to kill myself at school. Certainly, that act has affected my life ever since. If I could go and scrub my record clean, it would be clean of that. Everything else, every mistake and fuck up and wound I’ve caused, would come second – even less than second – to getting rid of that. I’d take a time machine to stop that.

I learned things that day, of course. I avoid the afterlife like I’m avoiding some touchy man at a party. The afterlife is rather hard to conceive of once you’ve just stared into nothingness. Oh, the lights, the lights! – were hospital lights. They’re really bright, you know.

But it wasn’t like I one day decided, “Let’s die! It sounds great.” To this day I can’t give you a good reason for why I did it. But it wasn’t a one-off adventure toward death. I’d been depressed for years. Actual, not-shitting-you years. 

I was never exuberant and extroverted as a child, but one day it went from being a bratty quiet child to whatever I was. Depressed. Just depressed. Really, really depressed. And who gets depressed as a kid? Something must have been wrong with me. Depression is something ‘wrong with’, of course, but. There must have been something wrong with me that I was depressed in the first place.

That’s what the girl-me yells when I visit her. She curses me. What could possibly have been wrong with me that I’d try to end everything. I ruined her life, she shrieks. I’m an incompetent worthless ass who isn’t even good at being quiet and small. She goes on and on.

I scuff my sneaker against the non-existent ground, stirring up non-existent dust.

Everything would have been fine if I had just toughed it out, she rants. She could have fixed her life if I hadn’t stepped in and fucked it all over. She talks about her dreams and her ideas and it all just blends into noise. I’ve heard this a thousand times. I’ve told myself this a thousand times. She complains about how much of a jerk I was in early adulthood. She complains I’ve given up all my goals and settled down with some man – and she hisses that word out like she’s a demon entering a church. Even though the me I’m looking at now is well-grown and just as chubby and curved as I am, I can’t help but remark on her childishness.

“You play at being a man!” she trills, winding herself up more and more and more and more.

“I am a man,” I respond. ‘Half the time,’ I think.

“I hate men!” she sobs, flopping down into the expanse of her hair.

I sigh and kneel down to her again. She’s wailing, great tears pouring from her eyes. “Hey,” I say.

She just wails.

“I kind of need to. You know.” I scratch the back of my neck. “We kind of need to integrate so I can stop being so fractured all the time.”

“I hate you!” she sobs, again. 

“Yeah, yeah, you hate me, I hate me, it’s the same thing,” I say under my breath. I grab her arm and begin to haul her over my shoulder again – the urge to haul the both of us to some spot is overwhelming – and she smacks me in the face.

“What happened to me! Why did I turn into you!” she asks, voice hot.

I let myself feel the sting. I’m so impartial when I take on this makeshift form. I’m exactly the type of person my gods want me to be.

“Well,” I say, “you kind of died on me.”

The other-me stops talking, wailing, sobbing, shrieking. We just sit together with the knowledge that I kind-of sort-of died in the hospital just before I turned thirteen, and I’m never going to remember what drove me there, and I’m just going to have to live with what happened for the rest of my damn life.

Eight

I tell myself I ‘caught’ the depression when I was eight, but it was probably later. I don’t remember exact dates. I remember being small. But I’ve always been small. For all it matters, bodily, I could have caught it from ten to twenty – I haven’t grown much in all those years, except horizontally. 

(I stretch my shoulders back one day and realize I’ve gotten chubby, chubby on my back, and it’s so odd I just stand in front of the mirror for a while, not registering my reflection. I’m used to my fat going right to my thighs.)

I was in therapy as a child. Therapy that didn’t really help. The most distinct memory I have of the time is going up the elevator, or maybe the stairs, and wondering aloud about the end of our civilization. I had been thinking of the end of ancient Greece and Rome and how our own end, here in the US, would be so difficult for us to see. We might live through the downfall as it occurred. I couldn’t explain exactly what I was thinking. I wasn’t thinking of wars or politics or famine or water crisis or, or, or. I was just thinking, “It happened before, it has to happen again, right? It happens again and again.” 

I went to two different therapists as a child-teenager. I found little use from either of them. Now I’m older and better educated, I know what I needed was one of those cognitive-behavioral therapists, not one that just sits there and stares at you and expects you to talk out your problems and gives you pithy sayings. I craved ‘homework’, craved doing something to fix myself, and talking it out just spun me into worse shape.

If I could go back in time, I’d tell them, “Put me on medication, you fuckwits.” I’d warn them they needed to get to work sooner than later if they didn’t want me trying to untangle all the bull shit ruts my mind would work into itself. But, no time machine. Besides, if I could go back in time, I already would have, and the whole thing would be solved, and since it’s not, there’s no time machine waiting for me in the future.

I must have been older than eight. 

But I remember being small and bringing it up with the doctor. I remember feeling fake. I couldn’t really be depressed or chronically sad or. No, I was perfectly normal. Just quiet. I just enjoyed my stories and toys and books. I got too involved in my stories. That’s why I was feeling sad. I was reading sad stories.

Surely, to this day, I meld into stories easier than I’d prefer, but I was kidding myself. Depression was clinging to me like seaweed around my legs as I swam in the Pacific. She was getting ready to drown me.

I’d always been shit at talking to people, so it wasn’t any wonder talk therapy did jack shit. I’d always been terrible at talking to people, and I was still a child, in a way, so it wasn’t any wonder I just decided ‘let’s not being around’ rather than talking to someone.

Twenty-Two

My parents divorce when I’m eighteen. I flunk out of college shortly before that. I barely make it out of high school. This story is being told in reverse. It’s being told with no gods’ damned chronological order. I can’t keep down jobs for long. I take my anger and sorrow and pain out on everything.

I am a violent person, but like my spirits tell me, “You keep it all inside.” At least until I break, and then I take it out on myself. Spiritually, I conceive of myself as perfectly normal, except when I’m in too much emotional pain. Then I’m just this humanoid form of fire and lava. 

Reality, my thighs are pretty damaged from the whole self-hatred shit. My wrist is too, but so faded you won’t notice unless you really look. My thighs used to be something I could take pride in, even as big as they were, they are. They’re all scarred up. You know what it is when you see it. 

I don’t get the fuck over myself until I hit my twenties, and I’m a right bitch through most of that anyway. 

Did I really meet my partner when I was nineteen? How did he stick around with me? How did anyone stick around with me?

I’m debating with the other-me about all this shit when she shows up.

She’s draped in a simple dress, and her hair is mine – actually mine, not exaggerated as it tends to be in journeys – and she’s young. When she speaks, it is with a voice I’ve heard a dozen times before. Fleeting and brief and firm.

This isn’t some other me. It is just me, behind all the depression and anxiety and fear and scarring. In the Otherfaith very pure or very corrupt spirits tend to appear as children. They never act like children. I know it is my own bias and interpretation that she shows up like this. She doesn’t look like I did when I was a child. She looks like someone I have never seen on the outside, just inside my own heart.

“Enough,” she says, and when her feet touch the ground we are on her energy ripples out. “Stop fighting.”

I wobble and turn to goo. The other side of myself does too, until we meld into something new. I look down and just see myself, as I physically am. 

This is me, the physical outer me, and when I look up there is what some people might call a soul. Or the God-Soul, or the God-Self, or the holy guardian angel, or whatever damn name fits in your tradition. In the Otherfaith we hold up mirrors to ourselves to see who we are and our many distortions. She is without distortion. She is what resides in my heart and wishes to be spoken to the world.

She asks why I keep running from her.

I tell her I’m not running from anything.

She asks where I am trying to go to.

I tell her I’m just trying to – I cut myself off. I can feel it. The edges of my own mind and soul blending with the spirits of the Otherfaith. I can feel the large body of the Clarene cracking this makeshift journey open like an egg. 

“I’m a piece of shit,” I say, “and I don’t deserve to be here.”

I can feel Ava behind me, let in by the Clarene cracking everything open, and she digs her small foot into my back and I can feel her sneer.

“Get the fuck over it,” she says.

The me that ducks in and out of my life, giving the actual good advice I need, the me that actually is herself entirely, the me that I can hear when the fog of depression is torn away, stands before me. I bury her under the asshole side of me I want the word to see instead.

I conceive of her as a kid because of how damn vulnerable I feel. 

I don’t reach out and take her hand. She doesn’t extend one anyway. I don’t embrace her. 

I know her, which is the whole point. I can’t be her. She’s my heart. She’s the soul. 

I can try to embody her. Ava’s heel, pressing sharply into me, tells me what I need to do. Of course I’m running away from this side of myself. She holds me to the highest standard. And she forgives me when I fuck up. That’s what soul is.

I need to get the fuck over it and get on with my life.

I can come out of this journey, but technically this whole life is a journey. It is the pursuit of that side of me, stripping away the bandages I don’t need until I can embody her. It is my own understanding of the body and the soul, odd and unstable as it may be.

[Short Post] Living Ruins

Over on Idea Channel, Mike Rugnetta discussed ‘The Ruins of Las Vegas’. Seeing as how I am from the United States and see many US cities as being sacred in the Otherfaith, the video left me a lot to think on.

I’ve never been to Las Vegas. The sacred cities that are very important in my practice as an Other Person are all ones I have lived in or traveled to: Seattle, New York City, the sprawling hell-scape of Phoenix and the smaller nestled city of Tucson. Vegas rarely pinged my radar, its bright colorful setting more of a pit stop in any Otherfaith stories I wrote than the main attraction.

The Other People’s spiritual landscape – the West – is one I map out onto the United States but that I think could be mapped out where ever it fits best a Person’s landscape. It wasn’t until I went to the Midwest that I truly understood what the Clarene’s Orchards and farmland looked like, for example, so I think lived experience has a huge impact on how we perceive the worlds we explore religiously and spiritually. There are many parts that make up the West: the Wastes, where waste is dumped and cleaned up, similar to an expansive swamp; the Wintertime, where the landscape is covered in snow and frozen lakes; the City, with massive skyscrapers, exhaust fumes clinging the air, and bright flashing lights; the more distant Temple of the Fathers, seemingly frozen in time.

The idea of ‘Ruins’, and the ruins of someplace still living, gets my religious-soul all stirred up. Especially as Rugnetta brings up the idea that Las Vegas, unlike other cities, is not meant to be used; it is meant to be looked at, awed at, gawked at.

It is easy to see the Other People’s City as comparable to Vegas but only at first blush. It may smell of exhaust, but the streets are more often built for foot travel. The sidewalks are wide and allow for spirit to gather and discuss. When a building ‘goes up’ (as much as it can in an otherworldly place like that), it stays up.

Is there a place comparable to the living ruins of Las Vegas? I don’t quite think so. At least not in the West that I perceive.


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[Pagan Experience] Spiritual Growth

This is part of the Pagan Experience 2016 prompts. Each month brings a new prompt with options for alphabetical weekly prompts tied to the monthly topic. For this blog, I’ll be doing a monthly post on the associated topic.

Ava Laetha (who is described here) appears to me at times covered in blood. At times she glows with a shimmering divine light, and still at other times she appears as a sharp-tongued, observant god masquerading as a child. She is most childlike when covered in blood: bossy, temperamental, vacillating between affection and enmity. Glowing in divine light she is a vision of eternity and hope.

During Reunion, however, I see her most as the small-figured god without trappings of death or overpowering divinity.

“Anne Blake,” she greets. I frown around ethereal pastries stuffed in my mouth, the sounds of the cafe out of place for when I usually meet the Laetha as Ava. Cafes are part of Reunion for me, though.

“Llewellyn,” I correct. “I’m a Llewellyn.”

She ignores my comment and sits across from me. Her Companion – the winged giant Erann – stands beside us, not taking a seat of his own. I don’t look at him. I keep my focus on Ava. She is not the type to simply visit.

“I have a task for you,” she says. She manifests a teapot and cup, snapping sugar into existence with her fingers and busying herself with the preparation of it.

Erann shoos away the barista who approaches us.

“I want you to take the new recruits on their Trial.” Ava sips her tea, and through the steam her pale, pale eyes meet mine. Her lips curl up. “Up to our Northern Neighbors.”

The ‘Northern Neighbors’ is slang, a phrase tossed around by Ava and myself and, daringly, in my own stories. They aren’t relevant to anyone besides myself, I suspect. But they are how I came to know Ava and how I came to cement her as my Antagonist.

ANTAGONIST

Antagonism is a theoretical structure for god-human relationships within the Otherfaith. The Antagonist god disrupts the Other Person’s religious and spiritual life in some way. This includes mockery and criticism of a Person, tampering with one’s spirit body and energies, thwarting magic or magical-spiritual practices, or throwing difficult obstacles into a Person’s life. Antagonist gods have spirits at their call or command whom may also join the god in harassing an individual.

Antagonist gods are not universal among the People; Ava Laetha is my Antagonist, but she is not necessarily the Antagonist to another practitioner or devotee.

At first blush, Antagonism may seem entirely negative. We are being harassed by a god and their spirits, and they poke at our soft spots with glee and/or ease. For a long time, I could only describe my relationship with Ava as ‘awful’. She hated me and didn’t hesitate to point out how little she thought of me. She seemed to go out of her way to cause problems.

Problems that conveniently resulted in learning new skills, adapting a weakness to a strength, or a breakthrough in my practice.

That is the crux of Antagonism, beyond the frustration: growth through ordeal. Its opposite is the Beneficent: growth through aid. Both of these relationships are entered into through deals we make or reject with the gods.

Ava became my Antagonist shortly after she burned the Northern Neighbors entire land to ash. I had prayed to the Laetha, begging for them to bring absolute ruin. I’d barely known Ava then. She was just the shimmering golden child who was crowned and enthroned among the Laethas. It was a personal plea. The story of Ava burning down the ‘Northern Neighbors’ is personal, something I don’t consider ‘canon’ in any sense. It’s an in-joke between Ava and myself.

But when she came back from the North, dripping in blood as if she’d stepped out of a shower, it damn well didn’t seem funny.

“Blake,” she called to me. I’d been brought to the border of the West and the North by the Firebird. He was hovering over my shoulder, his head bent down and his beak touching my shoulder. Ava laughed joyously. I could see smoke streaming from the mountains behind her, mountains I had once known almost-well.

“I burnt everything down!” Ava told me excitedly. “Even the Firebird helped. The mountains are burning from inside!” She was practically screaming with glee.

There hasn’t been a moment I regretted praying to my god for it.

Ava wasn’t content just delivering the news. She had twirled and then held out her sticky hand. Her smile was full of too many teeth. I knew there was more than blood on her. I knew she was bigger and scarier than I could see.

“I can give you this power,” she offered. “I’ll teach you how to burn like I do without ever going out. All I want from you is worship.” Her grin split her face open. “Devotion. Piety. Absolute adoration. I’m a god, after all!”

With the Firebird’s feathers and heat against my back, I refused her.

Ava changed immediately. She became smaller and sharper.

“Excuse me?” she snapped.

“No thanks,” I repeated.

“Oh, is that so,” she said through her nose. “I’m a god; you can’t say no.”

And then I made one of the poorer decisions of my life and spat out, “Watch me.”

BENEFICENT

The catch was I couldn’t have made the deal with the Laetha Ava anyway. I already made a deal, years earlier, with another god. I’d signed away my soul to the god that accompanied me that day: the Laethic Firebird.

“Technically, they’re the same god,” I argue with myself. “Then again,” I tell myself, “they’re not the same god.”

the Firebird had come to me when I was still a teenager and proposed the deal that truly gave form to the Otherfaith. I didn’t realize at the time what sort of relationship I was setting up with him. ‘Signing away my soul’ isn’t quite accurate. It wasn’t nearly so severe. But I was from then-on intertwined with the fiery Laethic bird.

That day, as our goals and desires aligned, as I agreed to serve him and his divine family, he became the Beneficent in my spiritual life.

I didn’t have a word for either relationship at the beginning. ‘Antagonist’ and ‘Beneficent’ are possibilities. They fit perfectly with how I interact with Ava and the Firebird, and it may be that they work for the rest of the Otherfaith. (I’m acting as-if they will for the moment.)

The Beneficent relationship between god and human is rooted in the god’s cultivation of their devotee. They assist and guide the human under their care, creating situations for the Person to learn and grow. They teach spiritual techniques and skills.

Which isn’t to say that the relationship is always positive or even enjoyable. I’ve argued with the Firebird and rebelled against his advice. The best way to describe the relationship is as father-son. There were times when I trusted him entirely.

And there were times when I felt utterly betrayed, like when I found out about the other Laethas. There were so many. They all had personalities and goals and opinions on who and how I should be.

A Beneficent isn’t meant to be an endless font of praise. They give us challenges, just like our Antagonist. The Beneficent doesn’t try to stymie our efforts however. They give us, in essence, ‘homework’. They guide us along the path we desire to go on, the one we agreed to when making the deal with them.

With the Firebird and I, the deal was that he and his kin would help me create a religion if I worshiped them. A rather simple deal when it was said and done. So when I say I sold my soul or my life, it is in a joking way. I did give part of my life to them, but it was part I wanted to give. I didn’t know what that all entailed or how hard the work would be. There are days where I’m frustrated.

The deal was completely worth it, though.

The Firebird and I still don’t get on better than any father (him) toward a misbehaving son (me). When he advises me now, though, I listen. His presence is like a warm fire. He is a giant flaming bird and frightening plenty of the time, but for me he will always be like a hearth fire. He’s the oven and the stove, the fireplace I crave to have, and the small fire built when out camping. His heat flows through me, both through intent and happenstance. His lessons are mine to live and learn and often to fail at.

Each of the Laethas has their own specific domain. Alaria’s is warfare and combat. Asier’s is prosthetic and medical technology. Arabella’s is virtual reality. Aletheia preside over robotics. Arrise and Azure preside over spaceships and the like (as well as giant robots). Artois is a god of dissent, embodying it in a very real way for the Laethas. Alma is healing and medicine. Ava is presides over the throne and, in essence, cruelty.

The Laethic Firebird is all about immolation and apotheosis. I don’t view my practice as incorporating apotheosis anymore, though having read quite a lot about it within magical practices it did influence me. Instead, what the Firebird guides me toward is a constantly shifting self. Unlike the shapeshifting of the Dierne, which relies on such a strong sense of selfhood that it persists through the shapeshifting, transformation for the Laetha (and the Ophelia, who also has a large roll in my spiritual life) is about many selves. My selfhood and identity is always a little bit at risk when I engage in the spiritual-magical aspects of the Otherfaith.

Trusting the Firebird – that he will bring me back to my self even if I’ve undergone significant, devastating changes and experienced many different ways of being – is something I learned and what solidifies our relationship. I trust Ava to teach me lessons, but I also trust that she’d toss me aside if I was too frustrating. The Firebird sticks with me even when I obviously cause him irritation. He agreed to do so, just like I agreed to worship him.

“Taking the recruits to the North is a good idea,” he tells me when I visit him in his nest. His nest is more of a mountain, a huge crevice in the face of it full of orange-leaved trees and crackling branches underfoot. His giant eyes look up at me, his head lowered to my face. “You need to do it.”

I sigh.

“Ava was right to ask you. You’re old enough now.” He gathers himself back up, and his neck arches into the blue sky. Like this, he seems especially regal.

“I am old enough, aren’t I?” I muse.

“Go then,” he says, jerking his head. “You’ll be starting soon.”

A few years ago I went on my own Trial, an event every Nix initiate and spirit experiences. Originally, I thought every Trial was the same for everyone. But I learned better. They are essentially tests of will. You delve into your own mind and swim in your nightmares. You stay there. And then you see if you come back, and if you come back what you carry with you.

“Everyone has to lead it eventually,” Ava tells me. “I hope you enjoy it,” she chirps, all saccharine.

She knows I won’t, but I know it doesn’t matter. I don’t snip at her. Time passes. My positions change. Every experience, pleasant or painful, allows me to learn new things.


Thank you for reading. ‘Of the Other People’ is a site dedicated to the Otherfaith, a modern polytheist god religion. We are supported through Patreon and want to give special thanks to our patron Jack at Drawing Stars. If you enjoy the writing here, consider becoming a patron!

[Friday] The New Year

Happy New Year.

The new year is a time for deciding changes and planning. Figuring out how our lives will now go. I don’t know how useful that all is, considering that resolutions usually end up broken. But I have always been a fan of planning. I approach the new energies of the year – coming from our culture rather, say, axial tilt – as a good time to think of what I want to do in the new year. Take away focus from what ‘must’ be done, mix the chores with the hobbies, and it all feels less like heavy resolutions settled upon my shoulders.

That said, I do have goals for the year.

I covered some of that in another post. This year I will be working on the Pagan Experience project again, hopefully with more luck than I held last year. The ‘Basics’ pages for the Dierne, Laethelia, and Ophelene will be finished (the Darren and Liathane are just too new to have useful ‘basics’ pages). There will be more holy days post, which fell off in the middle of the year, and more information on the spiritual-magical component in the Otherfaith. Which isn’t to say that all of this will come out rapidly, but I do plan for consistency.

Near the middle of this month (around the 15th), I’ll be posting a checklist of writing and projects that need to be worked on or completed this year. This way people can see what needs to be done and get active if they wish. I’ll update the list as necessary, but I want it easily accessible so people can decide what they want to work on. If nothing interests you, you can always start your own projects! I strongly encourage you to pursue what interests you.

As noted in the earlier post, I will be putting out a book later this year: The Beginning Otherfaith. The title may change. It will focus on the basic beginning practices of the Otherfaith as well as theology and belief. It won’t be ‘complete’ by any means. There will also be an Otherfaith podcast. It will focus on storytelling within the Otherfaith and hopefully include read-aloud stories that people have written. I haven’t done much of any audio work before, so it will be an adventure (for me and everyone listening).

I wish I could say that I had spent Reunion piously in front of my shrines. I wish I could say that I even did much of anything. I didn’t. Life has changed for me. It is not that I am no longer religious. It is that there’s no longer that openness within myself. There are hints of fear. Fear of being seen as silly or too faithful. The fear that other polytheists will look down on me for saying that is still here, of course, but ultimately it is much more difficult living with this tension inside myself. The new year – and New Year’s Eve – is about the tension between the self-that-we-are and the self-we-want-to-be. And I constantly live trying to balance out the parts of myself. Religious, fannish, spirit wife, human wife, frustrated artist, even more frustrated critic.

I did have breakthroughs during Reunion. Ava Laetha, who I view as an antagonist in my spiritual practice, and I had a moment of connection unlike that we hold the rest of the year. Even when I’m not doing as much as I would like, I still learn the spirits.

I want to leave with a quote from Jenn’s latest post (at my time of writing):

I don’t know why, but I was also sort of daydreaming about what Reunion would be like if we ever can have an in-person gathering. Like, if we somehow end up close enough that we could meet in person, what would we do for Reunion?

I think the big gatherings would be at the start and end of Reunion. Probably on the 23rd for the beginning, or whatever day is convenient (I celebrate Christmas but I don’t know about my fellow <Otherpeople, so as with all things it would just depend) but I don’t think it would be like a ritual or a typical neopagan gathering. We would do some sort of religious holiday observance–prayers, maybe a ritualized activity but not a big thing–but I mostly see it as being just a nice gathering of people with food and socialization, all in the name of our gods. And pretty much the same for the end of Reunion, I think.


Thank you for reading. ‘Of the Other People’ is a site dedicated to the Otherfaith, a modern polytheist god religion. We are supported through Patreon and want to give special thanks to our patron Jack at Drawing Stars. If you enjoy the writing here, consider becoming a patron!

[Monday] Idea of the Week

Happy Monday. I look forward to seeing people at our G+ Hangouts this weekend!

For this week, I’m thinking of love, devotion, and piety. The question I’ve seen, in various forms and assumptions depending on who is asking it, is whether devotion without love (or, more widely, positive emotion) is appropriate or useful. Or, as it is phrased at times, does a duty like devotion require positive emotion (like love)?

I don’t agree or disagree with either presumption. I’m rather in the middle, seeing both sides as valuable – these sides being devotion as love and devotion as duty. No doubt this is influenced by my patron deity the Laetha and his opposite the Ophelia. Both gods are duty-bound while presiding over extreme emotional states (mania and depression). The idea that devotion without love isn’t as pure or effective sits wrong with me, as does the claim that we are all somehow inherently bound by duty to honor gods. Both arguments can be taken to greater or lesser extremes, with the more extreme claims seeming to sprout from conflict within our communities.

There are plenty of reasons while the middle ground works for me and why the various ‘ends’ of this spectrum work for other people. Our community is varied and diverse and it’s our obligation to continue making it so and promoting it further. Demanding or insisting that everyone follow a certain style of devotion is a good way to kill community. It’s also a good way to seriously injure other people’s religious lives, which any leader, clergyperson, or general co-religionist should want to avoid.

I find great use of the spectrum of devotional styles. My emotions and ideas and selfhood are definitely brought into my relationship with my gods. With the spirits I work with more intimately, it’s practically overwhelming how my biases, assumptions, wounds, and desires swirl together with the spirits’. I couldn’t do the work I do if I ignored or subdued my emotions. At the same time, I don’t always want to pray, or write for the gods, or do anything religious. It sucks sometimes, it’s hard, the gods don’t talk back or when they do it’s difficult to understand, and I just want to do other things. Aren’t video games better? They sure are easier.

But that doesn’t really matter. If I approach my shrine and feel like crud, am tired and a bit hateful, that’s okay. If I am resentful, my offerings still matter. Like any relationship, I still have to try even when I don’t feel like it. I can’t turn to my fiance and say, “I’m not feeling good today, so I’m going to ignore you.” At the very least, I need to tell him, “I’m not feeling good, so I need some alone time.” And my going to my shrine and giving offerings, or engaging in purification, or cleaning devotionally are ways of doing that. Deciding I’m going to write a little bit on a spirit or a god is a way of doing that. Working on the wiki is a way of doing that. Praying is a way of doing that. And I don’t have any problem with telling a god, “This is it for today, I can’t give you more.”

This works for me. It doesn’t need to work for anyone else. Other people are going to focus more on duty, because that is what works for them and their relationship with their gods. Others are going to focus more on their emotions and their emotional entanglement with their gods, because it works.

I think both ends of the spectrum are useful and valuable. When they take on extremes and began assuming a rightness or truth, though, we run into problems. These are largely community problems. We give each other bad advice on the assumption that our devotion is the correct kind. We assume all gods act the same and want the same thing. We might tell another person that they are going to be punished for not acting like we do. We might assume that a god wants to relate to another person exactly like they relate to us.

At its worst, we end up severely damaging another persons’ religious life.

We can do this on accident, and for most of us that result is accidental. We don’t realize that we aren’t privy to some Universal Truth, or we don’t realize how our words affect another person. We don’t realize how our words have been taken. We can’t predict what someone will focus on, after all. Communication is tricky.

But when we do cause injury, especially serious injury, to another person’s religious life by giving bad advice, we should apologize. Even if that apology is, “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize…” Especially when we’re in positions of power over or of authority – it doesn’t matter whether we put ourselves there or not. If we are insisting upon one true way of devotion, we do hurt people and we cause toxic communities. We have to act responsibly and realize how we’re influencing the spaces we’re in.

This is one reason I find claims that we not look for ‘external validation’ lacking. When we go poking our nose’s into other people’s lives – such as stating that one is not doing devotion properly, or that one is taking it too seriously, or whatever variation of such insults there might be – we are the ones looking for validation. We’re looking for someone to bow to our ideas or to agree with us. Someone standing up and saying, “That doesn’t seem right,” or, “That’s hurtful,” isn’t looking for your validation. Don’t step on someone’s foot and then blame them for pointing that out.

This is really one of the basics of community: accepting responsibility for our actions. If we don’t care about community, we can ignore how we effect other people. But if that’s the case, we should ask whether those contributions are worthwhile.


Thank you for reading. ‘Of the Other People’ is a site dedicated to the Otherfaith, a modern polytheist religion. We are supported through Patreon and want to give special thanks to our patrons Jack at Drawing Stars and Leithin Cluan at Treasure in Barren Places. If you enjoy the writing here, consider becoming a patron!

[Monday] Idea of the Week

Happy (late) Monday. Over the past weekend we had our usual hangouts. If you’re interested in participating, submit a membership request to our G+ group. If you’re part of the Otherfaith, interested in it or our gods, feel an awkward fit in the pagan and/or polytheist communities, or just want to chat about religion, you’re welcome to join us. This weekend we’ll be having text-only chat, by request.

Currently, I’m reading Francesca de Grandis’ Be A Goddess and Goddess Initiation, which I’ve begun simply calling the Goddess books. The former shaped the Otherfaith in ways, at least in the beginning of this religious tradition. Rereading the books, I’m stuck by how far I’ve moved from what I once believed. Or not even believed, but accepted. I’ll be chronicalling my more in-depth thoughts on Tumblr, which I will also be getting more active on.

One reason why this week’s posts have been late is because I’ve been working on a new wiki project for the Otherfaith. While Wikia is a very common wiki platform and is, so far, the easiest to format, it unfortunately has some incredibly awful drawbacks (one of which is their approach toward content). Part of going to a new wiki (one that using the Mediawiki software) means learning how to format and understand coding, at least on a basic level. That will be slow going, but to have a wiki that functions how I want it (and has talk pages) it’s worth the effort. I also think a wiki is beneficial to the Otherfaith as it allows for more collaborative contributions. As that project advances I’ll post updates, both here and on our social media extensions.

For our idea of the week, I want to talk about purification.

Cleansing and purification is a topic I’ve touched on briefly before, but it’s been over a year since I’ve addressed it in any meaningful way. Cleansing is tied with shame in the Otherfaith, though before we do that we have to address why the shame exists in the first place. (We don’t want to cast out shame because we’re guilty of hurting another person, for example.) However, it isn’t limited to that. There are also connections to more mundane cleansing, like cleaning our homes and shrines and making them comfortable to live in. Being a twenty-something with too many books, that is a lot easier said than done. Keeping the house organized? Especially when it comes to laundry, we’re typically messy.

It was actually religious reasons that got me cleaning as a teenager. I’m nowhere near as dedicated to it as I should be, but that’s an exercise in habit. Just like when it comes to prayers and offerings, another practice that I’m iffy at keeping up (at best!). Cleansing and purification have definitely fallen to the wayside in a lot of ways for me – not in the sense that I don’t think of them, but they’re very far from active parts of my practice. If anything, the most active part of my practice is writing and tinkering with ideas.

But purification is an important part of the practices in Be a Goddess, and there is something relaxing and wonderful about simply letting go of ourselves. Whether that be our drama, internal or external, our assumptions and expectations, our wounds, or whatever – sometimes we simply have to reach in and pull it out. I tend to give my spiritual and emotional muck to my gods, though I’m unsure where that practice originated. Maybe it was just easier. It is, for me, a way of opening up to my gods and being honest with them. I can let go of my desire for perfection and my impatience and simply be, unfortunate wounds and all, with the gods I love.

My purification practice revolves mostly around the Ophelia. the Ophelia is the opposite god to the Laetha, their challenger and protector both, and I suspect my relationship with her is influenced by the Laetha’s patronage to me. the Laetha and Ophelia were the first two gods I met, as well. the Ophelia, in her towering, veiled form, cold to the touch and carrying her heavy, suffocating air about her, was frightening and enticing both. I came to her in desperation, in longing, in sorrow. Even when she was at her most horrifying, the pain belonged to her.

Even before I had a name for the ‘faith, I dreamt of her. Her and the Laethelia, our sea god, haunted me. Nightmares are no stranger to me, but I could always tell when a frightful dream meant a bit more. And I dreamt, in terror, of bright blue seas, the endless depths of the ocean, and water that pulled me under. the Ophelia is whom I speak of when I grasp at lucid dreams, the god who most often swirls in those incoherent images. I dreamt of an apocalypse where everything was washed away, where the Ophelia had sunk the world to the bottom of her waters.

When I had given her a name, or she had given me hers, the dreams ebbed, only flowing in on occasion. She had a name, and a face, and a human form – she wasn’t a destructive river trying to wipe me out. If I approached her close enough I could feel that danger still, but her human face shifted from an untouchable beauty to someone far more comforting. Even when she reached in and yanked out mud and mold from my heart, she had morphed from a dreadful presence to one of dark sanctuary.

I meet her mostly in the shower, nowadays. Turning up my hands and praying to her – and then talking, just speaking out to her of what fills my stomach like stones. She doesn’t much need to rip into me anymore. Those days have passed. Her presence, even when overwhelming and cold, is comforting. Unlike my patron and his mother the Clarene, I can be open. I can just speak with the Ophelia. Shame, fear, sorrow, despair, and hope all swirl together in her.

I open with a prayer to all the gods, murmuring their names in a litany before moving on to ask the Ophelia to help. And I speak with her before scrubbing off my body and praying that certain things be washed away.

The other two gods associated with purification, in a more direct way, are the Laethelia and Ophelene. the Ophelia as purifier is more focused on washing away and getting rid of, in a somewhat gentle fashion. She invites us to reflect honestly upon ourselves. the Ophelene, by contrast, is about cutting off and destruction. She is less concerned with our comfort and more focused on slicing away that which doesn’t serve (whether that be her community or an individual). She doesn’t wait, she acts. And the Laethelia is associated with the healing, far more gentle than the other two gods. This shows in her association with seafoam and bubbles, though she does have connections to the deep ocean.

These gods purification and cleansing associations can be understood as the Ophelia being tied to darkness, the Laethelia to light, and the Ophelene to blood (or blood-letting). They can also be understood cyclically, as the Ophelene cutting open what needs cleansing, the Ophelia actually cleansing the wound, and then the Laethelia healing us.

All of these gods also have a water connection – the Ophelia being a river god and giving some form of water association to her syncretic daughters the Laethelia and Ophelene. This ties in or explains why water is important to cleansing and purification in the Otherfaith.

I’ll be posting specific practices and ideas for purification over on our Tumblr, so check there for updates. And don’t forget that you don’t have to be on Tumblr to submit questions or content to our Tumblog!


Thank you for reading. ‘Of the Other People’ is a site dedicated to the Otherfaith, a modern polytheist religion. We are supported through Patreon and want to give special thanks to our patrons Jack at Drawing Stars and Leithin Cluan at Treasure in Barren Places. If you enjoy the writing here, consider becoming a patron!

[Monday] Idea of the Week

Happy Monday! We had another two Otherfaith Hangouts this weekend; I wasn’t able to attend do to being at Phoenix Comic Con. I’m thankfully back and exhausted from the convention, though it was a great time.

Obviously, I can’t comment on the Hangouts, but for those present – please comment on any interesting ideas and topics that were brought up. I’d love to hear them.

June starts today. June, like May, is another ‘Marriage Month’ in the Otherfaith. I tie it especially to Othani and Aletheia 009, who marry at the end of this month. June is our wind-up month to the rough Hell Month of July. We celebrate marriage and light and joy before being shot sharply into the mythic cycle of despair surrounding the deification of the Dierne. Staying in the moment is tough but important, however. I’m easily tempted into running off into July contemplations before the month even hits.

My own practice has been swinging back and forth from the personal to the mythic, the two bleeding into each other constantly. This is simply the way I interact with these grand spirits. Attempts at striking some clear, definitive lines are always for naught. At time the mess of personal and mythic is irritating, but it is always illuminating. It is always useful in the long run.

It’s because of my relationships with these gods and spirits that everything gets muddled. My own impressions and biases muddle the pictures. Impatience and eagerness causes problems. With a religion that brings to bear a lot of modern concepts of relation and interaction, my small interactions with small spirits can shape my whole understanding of my huge gods.

The Otherfaith, and the polytheism I practice, is relational. A lot of polytheism is as well, but I wouldn’t say all of it is. Some people practice a polytheism that makes no sense to me. The way they talk about their gods confuses me and is foreign in an uncomfortable, itchy way. And because I’m human, like everyone else, it’s easy to say that other’s relationships with their gods are ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’. I’ve written briefly about this topic before.

Before we get in farther, I want to point out all of this is anecdotal. Actual scholars and researchers can gather actual data; I’m just musing about my experiences here! It’s possible and likely that what I delve into below might be off-base for your experiences.

One reason I think we can have strong negative responses when we see people doing something differently is that we fall into traps. We think that people who identify like us should do the exact same thing we do. Slowly, as we grow up in our lives, we move away from this idea and are able to accept more diversity. However, we are still attached to our labels and identities (for good reason), and when someone who identifies as we do does something outside of our understanding that can be very threatening. I’m not talking about people who act abusively or advocate spiritual abuse; I’m talking about people who have different relationships with their spirits or with their practice.

This is tough. Not everyone in the Otherfaith is a writer or interested in creating stories. And while I know that is okay, I have to go beyond mere acceptance. I have to think of how to advocate other ways of interacting with the gods beyond what I do. Beyond what works for me. And that can be tough when we’re stuck in our way of practicing. I’m lucky in that I’m challenged all the time by the people I surround myself with. The Otherfaith is tiny enough I can’t bubble myself effectively even when I really want to. (At the same time, small numbers are a drawback.)

Bubbles can form without meaning to. We might form a bubble because we practice something different than the ‘mainstream’ culture we’re part of. As we build up our community, we begin forming expectations and assumptions and biases. If we form enough connections and grow big enough, we become a new norm. Similar to in geek and nerd culture, though, we can retain our concept of being the ‘underdog’ even when it no longer applies. We hold tight to the identities we formed with those who practiced and grew alongside us, ignoring or unaware that as we grew we began to grow similar and cut off diversity. And then when someone comes along practicing differently or having different relationships with their spirits, ones that are not the new norm, we have a choice on how to react. Groups seem to react with hostility or, at best, with dismissal.

(And then those people, kicked out of a group or identity they technically belong in, tend to form their own smaller groups which grow until they repeat the same process.)

Simply: we form cliques and suck at realizing it.

The solution, in my opinion, is not to avoid groups or structure. It is instead to admit that it is there. We shouldn’t ignore that some people have more power or influence than others. We should look honestly at our groups, at our communities, and our friends and figure out how we’re interacting within and without the group. The problem is not groups. The problem is our assumptions that our groups are correct or normative or Right. Within the group, maybe those practices and beliefs function fine. But we’re often a tiny piece of a much larger community.

Of course, there’s a difference between asking for recognition and demanding adherence to your specific practices. Those lines can get blurred, especially if we start from a position of having to negotiate and demand recognition. We don’t always realize when we’ve gone from underdog to top dog. We don’t always want to realize that. Acknowledging I have power over others (due to my position in the Otherfaith) sucks because it’s scary and uncomfortable, but I have to make sure I actually deal with it. That’s better than not admitting I have any influence.

Influence is scary. Often we go from not having any or much at all to having a lot, depending on our audience and our topics. We can hold a lot of sway over people’s lives in ways we’re not comfortable with. Boundaries are important because of this. Remember our humanity is important. Forgiving ourselves and others is important. And acknowledging our power is important. I’ve done the most harm and had the most harm done to me when that has been ignored or denied.

For me, a lot of community problems I see concern harm. Someone speaks up in response to something and says, “Ow.” They might not say it directly or explicitly, but that is often what happens. Someone says, “Ow that hurts” and we respond by telling them not to be hurt, or we can’t hurt them, or that they need to stop looking outside of themselves because that’s why they were hurt. We make up excuses for why we don’t need to take responsibility for our actions or our words. After all, we still see ourselves as the underdog most of the time.

So for this idea of the week, I’m pondering how our communities hurt us and why they hurt us. And how we can build them better without recreating the same toxic behaviors.

Happy Monday everyone.


Thank you for reading. ‘Of the Other People’ is a site dedicated to the Otherfaith, a modern polytheist religion. We are supported through Patreon and want to give special thanks to our patrons Jack at ‘Drawing Stars’ and Leithin Cluan at ‘from Stone onto Sand’. If you enjoy the writing here, consider becoming a patron!

[Monday] Idea of the Week

Happy Monday, and I hope everyone’s week has started well!

We had our weekly Otherfaith Hangout this Saturday. Celestine and Emerald were there along with my fiance and me. We discussed everything ranging from advanced books within Paganism and witchcraft (the lack thereof, that is) to fandom and famous Youtubers. It was a great few hours. If you want to join us, join our Google+ group; Hangouts allow us to have video, voice, and text chat, so join us as you are most comfortable.

Emerald brought up today the concept of gods and their association with days of the week. This was a good time to go over these associations, since our new gods (the Darren and the Eighth God) mean we have more gods than fit in seven days. Currently, I associated the gods as such:

  • Monday the Clarene
  • Tuesdaythe Ophelia
  • Wednesdaythe Ophelene
  • Thursdaythe Laetha
  • Fridaythe Dierne
  • Saturdaythe Laethelia
  • SundayCleaning/Cleansing Day

How should our week look when we add in the other two gods? Should both of them be added in? If we add in all of our eight gods, that means someone will have to share. the Eighth God seems rather transgressive of usual Otherfaith ideas as well as devotional concepts, so them not having a day associated with them makes sense. Currently our devotional calendar does have prayers for certain days, tied to our gods – how should that change with our new gods?

Personally, Sunday will always be tied to cleansing for me. It’s the end of the week for me, and I think cleansing and cleaning gets the new week off to the right start. Meaning that I need to focus on actually thoroughly cleaning on that day.

Related to our G+ discussion, what exactly do we mean by ‘advanced material’ when it comes to Paganism, polytheism, and witchcraft? I’m aware that fancy imprints like Scarlet Imprint exist, creating beautiful grimoires and collections of poetry – and not quite within a price range I can afford often. Add on that I’m unsure if their books would even be of interest or useful, and I’ve got a dilemma. This is how it feels with most ‘advanced’ material. Affordable copies of older texts like ‘The Book of the Law’ exist, and I can pick up other occult books somewhat cheaply at a big box bookstore. But go to a smaller Pagan or witchcraft shop? There’s no way I’m affording any of those older or actual ancient books.

And already we see a problem with what I assume is advanced – older. Certainly, I’ve found use turning to more historical and scholarly texts. Growing out of Wicca and witchcraft 101 led me to investigating Rome and Greece history, if only for a time. I’ve collected folktales and fairy tales, though my understanding of them is limited in many ways. Still, I turn toward the older tales, the older ideas, seeking something deeper than what I can usually find at my local bookstore.

This isn’t to say that Wiccan, Pagan, and polytheist books are all awful or all basic. But I do run into the problem of books labeling themselves as advanced or in-depth turning out to be Wiccish Spirituality 101. There’s only so much money I’m willing to invest in books that are lying about their content before I move on. And I move on to myths and fairy tales and histories of the occult movement. This is great, as I’m expanding my focus and learning new ideas I would not otherwise run into.

It’s not great, at the same time. I turn often to the internet for ideas on modern witchcraft that is different from Wicca or Wiccish practices. And the internet is an imperfect place, riddled with fabricated credentials (though those too happen offline) and misinformation.

I could, of course, venture into my local community, maybe study under a teaching coven of some sort. Having people to teach you is valuable. They’ve made mistakes and can catch you. They can oversee your practice before your shoot your mind to bits through messy about in the otherworlds – a danger that applies whether we view the spirits as Real Beings or mental archetype. Having someone to bounce ideas off of can keep you grounded. Though in person communities are not perfect; if anything, the internet more highlights our own failings as people than creates them out of nowhere.

But we run into the problem, even if we have people who we enjoy hanging out with offline who are of a witchy or polytheist persuasion, of not finding a teacher right for us. Not finding a group right for us. I don’t want to learn Wicca 101. I’m not interested. That’s not what I want to pursue. The traditions I am interested in are not local or not active enough to be accessible.

(That is another thing we discussed during our Hangout – the lack of accessibility to both advanced materials and traditions and teachers. The lack of the latter, we felt, stems from Witch Wars in the US that cause community drama. Sometimes the lack of access to teachers is based on finances, another issue I’ve run into.)

We just don’t really have advanced, modern books for people to pick up. There’s the idea that they don’t sell, and that people don’t want more advanced books. There’s the idea bandied about that most Pagans and Wiccans are fine being stuck in the 101 phase, an idea that usually carries patronizing and obnoxious implications that people who do go beyond such phases are superior or better at their spirituality or witchcraft. Frankly, I don’t think we’ve had time to figure out if ‘the majority’ of people are willing to move past 101 books, thanks to our large publishers refusing to publish such books.

The issue of publishing within Paganism is a huge one. One that other writers more involved with it can probably cover better than me. I can only address it as an outsider, a consumer, a reader of these books. I can only comment on what I see. I don’t mean to undersell the importance of publishing for Paganism, how it has exploded our communities and shaped us. I simply don’t think it has shaped us for the better in every way. I used to have around 200 Pagan books – the majority of those were rehashing of the same exact material.

Taking Llewellyn, one of the biggest publishers, as an example: one thing I’ve noticed, having read many of their books (and having loved some), is that a fair amount of them feel forced. Books that read more organically as informative, researched pieces have how-to sections shoved uncomfortably between chapters. This is especially true of some of the fairy books I’ve picked up by them. The how-to sections don’t fit and disrupt the flow of the book. There seems to be a fear that people don’t want to just read information or ideas. That every book needs to be a workshop book.

They don’t.

The topics I’ve discussed relating to publishing and lack of advanced material can be tied back into a lack of diversity among our communities. I’m not just talking about Paganism here either – polytheism has this problem as well. We’re just not always as good at admitting it. We seem, honestly, to be afraid of diversity. And we seem afraid to let people experience and try new things. Sometimes it’s fear that the new idea or topic won’t ‘sell’, or sometimes it’s a fear that we’ll get eaten alive by the blogosphere, or other times it’s a topic close to our chest. But for our communities to grow, including the Otherfaith, I think the promotion and actual acceptance of diversity is a must.

Otherwise, we end up with Wiccish Paganism 101 forever.

What are your thoughts? Agree or disagree? Feel free to leave a comment or just share your own ideas.


Thank you for reading. ‘of the Other People’ is a site dedicated to the Otherfaith, a modern polytheist religion. You can find more about us here and here. You can contact us here if you have any questions or would like to get involved.

[Monday] Idea of the Week

Happy Monday everyone. This past Saturday we had our first Otherfaith hangout on G+. Thanks to everyone who joined! I am planning on hosting hangouts every Saturday. We discussed a variety of things – the Darren and Ophelene, our Eighth unnamed god, and ‘doing the work’. It was brought up during our conversation that ‘doing the work’ is a rather misused phrase, however.

So, for this week, I want to suggest people contemplate what it means to perform religion. What does it mean to act religiously? How does performing and performance factor into religion? Is contemplation – or is any conscious thought process – a religious or devotional act?

Similar to a statement I posed during the hangout, how do we keep ourselves from falling into a trap of thinking that the gods, or someone else, will take care of our problems or fix the world? What obligations do we have, from our religion, to improving the world around us? How do we keep from assuming that a better world is found ‘tomorrow’ instead of making one ‘today’?

Relatedly, how do we encourage ourselves and others to take action without shaming or being condescending toward each other? In Managing Your Mind by Gillian Butler and Tony Hope, the authors discuss the uselessness of shaming or demeaning ourselves for our failings. Instead, they note throughout the book, it is important to make mistakes and learn from them (part of which requires a safe environment) and to encourage ourselves. That is what will cause us to develop better habits and behaviors.

I think a good closing question for this contemplation is what devotional action looks like in your life. Where you perform prayers, when you do, how often, etc. What do your rituals or ceremonies look like in terms of timing, actual actions, items required, etc.

Now, for our weekly link rush.

Elliot has posted an update on his shrine. Though my main shrine is pretty much set up exactly how I want it, I think it’s always good to adjust your shrine space to figure out what works best and what allows you to move easiest.

Fitting in nicely with this week’s focus, Jenn posted on her weekly devotions. She also has a very useful post on getting connected to your energetic tail. Check both out!

Adventures in Vanaheim has a review of a new book of fairy tales that has come out.

Merri-Todd over on Antinous for Everybody has posted a bunch of poems for the Tetrad++ and other deities. I recommend checking them, and P. Sufenas Virius Lupus’ poems, out.


Thank you for reading. ‘of the Other People’ is a site dedicated to the Otherfaith, a modern polytheist religion. You can find more about us here and here. You can contact us here if you have any questions or would like to get involved.

[Friday] D is for Devotion, Pt. 2

Friday posts are written by Sage of the blog Sage and Starshine. Every week or so they explore a different aspect of the Otherfaith through the letters of the alphabet.

This week I want to build on the previous essay about devotion to look at practical ways to start, rekindle, or strengthen a divine relationship in your life. We’ve established that all of us – human, spirit, and deity – are individuals with our own strengths and weaknesses. We all have personhood, which means consent and autonomy play key roles in these relationships. We all have preferences on what kind of relationships we want, and how we want to approach or be approached by our Beloveds. Let’s say you’ve decided all that and you know who you are (right now, at least!) and what sort of relationship you’d like to pursue. Our next question is… how do you decide what to do?

I think it’s important to note that anyone can pray to their Beloveds, converse about them, ask for or practice divination, and otherwise determine their divine partner’s opinions about the state of the relationship. Your satisfaction and their satisfaction are equally vital. Even if we can’t hear or sense our Beloved’s responses, it’s still important to make the attempt and ask. It’s just good manners!

Multiple Intelligences

I need to be honest and admit the inspiration for much of this post comes from my friend Jenett’s website. Jenett is a priestess in a religious witchcraft tradition and also a librarian, both of which make her excellent at organizing information and communicating ideas clearly. Her site “Seeking: First Pagan Steps and Tools” is written with the newbie Pagan in mind, but offers a lot of rich insight to “how and why do we do this religious thing?” for people of all experience levels and religious persuasions. In particular I’m lifting ideas from her essay on ways we learn and how we can apply that to our religious practice. I’m going a step forward and applying that to specifically devotional practice. What’s the difference between religious practice and devotional practice? I’d say primarily attitude; I can light candles and incense all day if I want, but if I’m not completing those actions for someone else then I wouldn’t call them devotional. (Your mileage may vary!)

Jenett links to a really nifty online quiz that tests your different modes of intelligence. My top three were language/linguistic, interpersonal/social, and intrapersonal/self-reflecting. I’m really good with words, I’m really good with people, and I’ve got a really good idea of what’s going on inside my head. My lowest scores were in visual/spatial reasoning, body movement/kinesthetic, and musical intelligence. So I’m not the best at moving in my body, knowing where things are around me, interpreting maps or visual puzzles, or at really getting and appreciating music. I, like everyone else, am a mix of these intelligences and smart in different ways, not all of which have to do with things like academic success or high IQ scores. Those are actually very limiting ways of approaching intelligence because they value certain ways of thinking and understanding the world over others. It’s also important to remember that intelligence, according to this theory, isn’t some static quality you get at birth. You can stretch and build intelligence just like any muscle, and you can play to your intellectual strengths in all areas of your life – including religion.

A newly-recognized form of intelligence that the above links don’t discuss is spiritual or existential intelligence. I mention this as a reminder that intelligence does come in any and all forms, and that new types are still being discussed and “discovered” today.

Devotionalism, Intelligence, and You

When we’re aware of our strengths and preferences we can start to apply them to our devotional lives. Perhaps collectively, the different standards of intelligence could contribute to an overall “devotional intelligence,” though I worry that such an approach, no matter how thoroughly explained, may unfairly preference certain individuals and ways of being smart over others. I’m pretty clumsy and knock things over a lot, and had a hell of a time learning to drive because I had no concept of objects in relation to my own body, but that doesn’t mean I can’t still offer devotional dance to the gods. My struggle with body/kinesthetic and spatial intelligence is part of the offering.

I’m going to suggest ideas on how to give devotion based on the theory of multiple intelligences, but remember that these categories can be fuzzy and theory is just theory. Take what makes sense for you and your particular devotional style and forget the rest.

Body Movement/Kinesthetic

This is about learning through doing and movement. People with high kinesthetic intelligence might be great dancers, enjoy sports, or constantly need to fidget with their hands. To incorporate kinesthetic intelligence into your devotion, you can:

  • Act out myths or spiritual concepts as you learn them.
  • Create devotional dance for the different gods; experiment with which movements and rhythms feel natural for each deity.
  • Try out a physical form of meditation, like walking a labyrinth or tai chi.
  • Choose ritual items or sacred jewelry based on how they feel, both physically and spiritually.

Existential/Spiritual

This form of intelligence asks questions like “why are we here?” and “what is my purpose?” It is linked to ethics and morality, as well as connecting inner self to the greater world. To exercise spiritual intelligence through devotion, you can:

  • Take up the study of ethics (also known as moral philosophy).
  • List the values of particular gods (such as the Dierne’s concern for consent) and consider how you can embody those virtues.
  • Practice skills in mysticism, energy work, magic, or divination as ways to understand the gods.
  • Explore your spirit body through meditation or visualization.

Language/Linguistic

This is about words, communication, and storytelling. It includes both visual language (reading and writing) and spoken language (speaking and listening). To use this type of intelligence in devotion, you can:

  • Read our myths and consider what they mean to you.
  • Use freewriting to explore your devotional relationship.
  • Look for books, essays, documentaries, or podcasts that relate to different gods’ purviews; what topics remind you of your Beloved?
  • Write about your experiences with the Otherfaith. You can submit essays and poetry to “Of the Other People” or let us know where you’re writing, and we’ll link to you.

Logic/Mathematics

This deals with manipulating numbers, thinking logically, and organizing data. If you excel at this type of intelligence, you likely have an easy time understanding processes and structures. To use this intelligence in devotion, you can:

  • Organize what you know about the gods in a way that makes sense to you. What information are you missing?
  • Dedicate time spent studying logic and critical thinking skills.
  • Make mind maps of myths and spiritual concepts as you learn them.
  • Describe rituals or guided meditations with clear, logical sequences of events. What do you do, in what order, and why?

Music

This intelligence deals with sound, rhythm, tempo, rhyme, and harmony and can be equally interested in spoken poetry as actual music. To use music intelligence in your devotion, you can:

  • Create playlists for the gods on YouTube or Spotify.
  • Write chants for your Beloved, focusing on which sounds and rhythms fit with their personality.
  • Focus on meter and rhythm when reading or writing poetry.
  • Play music as a background to meditation or prayer. Focus on how certain sounds and instruments evoke different feelings.

Nature

This is knowledge of and connection with the natural world: ecosystems, local weather patterns and geographical features, and lore surrounding animals and plants. To explore devotion through natural intelligence, you can:

  • Connect Otherfaith myths with the world around you. Where is the nearest river (the Ophelia) and what watershed does it belong to (the Laethelia)?
  • Go outside or use natural sounds as a backdrop to your meditation.
  • Make pilgrimages to sites sacred to the gods, such as the Appalachian Mountains for the Laetha or the seashore for the Laethelia.
  • Research common flowers, vegetables, or houseplants associated with your Beloved. Tend to those plants, starting them from seed if possible.

Self/Intrapersonal

This is knowledge of your emotions, your mental state, and who you are as a person. Someone with high self intelligence could use a variety of tools to learn more about themselves. To use this in devotion, you could:

  • Journal about your introduction to the Otherfaith and the gods or spirits you particularly care for.
  • Practice regular meditation and mindfulness to become aware and stay aware of your inner state.
  • Make time for self-care, such as visiting a professional massage therapist or practicing energetic hygiene.
  • Read (or write!) spiritual devotions or self-help books that focus on a particular aspect of your life you’d like to improve.

Social/Interpersonal

This is knowledge connected with groups and social interaction. Someone with high social intelligence knows how to connect with people in a variety of ways. To practice this within your devotion, you can:

  • Contribute to online religious discussion whether through blog posts, social media, or instant messaging.
  • Cultivate a close group of friends to discuss spirituality with and make maintaining these friendships part of your religious life.
  • Meditate or pray with others when possible.
  • Visualize meeting and talking with deities and spirits, or practice journey work to learn about them in person.

Spatial/Visual

This is proficiency with what objects look like and how they’re positioned in relation to other things. You might prefer visual or symbolic ways of obtaining information, such as through graphs and pictures, and may be highly artistic. To use this in devotion, you can:

  • Make scrapbooks, vision boards, or Pinterest boards full of images that remind you of your Beloved.
  • Study a form of divination that makes use of symbols or artistic puzzles, such as runes or Tarot cards.
  • Spend time arranging the objects on your altar or in your room to reflect your spiritual goals. Pay attention to things like color, texture, and shapes. What visual cues help you feel connected with the gods?
  • Keep a scrapbook to doodle and take artistic notes. Draw images of the gods or illustrate your favorite myths.

Wrapping it up

As you probably noticed, many of these devotional suggestions overlap with multiple kinds of intelligences. Blogging for me is a mix of social, self, and language skills, whereas my near obsessive doodling helps me visualize information in a mix of spatial and logical skills. Try anything and everything, mix and match, and never be afraid to step outside your comfort zone. We, like our relationships, grow with the effort and love given to us.

[Friday] D is for Devotion, Pt. 1

Friday posts are written by Sage of the blog Sage and Starshine. Every week or so they explore a different aspect of the Otherfaith through the letters of the alphabet.

Devotion is one of those words like “spirituality” or “love” with massive amounts of feeling and meaning, and yet can be all but difficult to define. Parents are devoted to children, lovers to their beloveds, artists to their crafts, athletes to their dreams. Religious leaders can be devoted to their flocks or their gods or to both, while ascetic hermits are devoted to the mystery within themselves. Activists are devoted to their causes, patron saints to those under their protection, bodhisattvas to the freedom of all beings. And devotees are, yes, devoted to the Person or People they give devotion to. I believe at the center of all these devotions is a mixture of love and dedication. (I would further argue that Love + Dedication = Duty, but I’m a romantic like that and am sure we could discuss that equation all day. Maybe for the next “D is for ____” essay!)

Devotion is, by its nature, something that must be cultivated carefully over time. I’ve often wondered about the term “devotee” in a spiritual context and whether my relationship with my primary deity “counts” as a devotional one. I suspect others have wondered the same about their own divine relationships. I don’t think this line of questioning is necessarily a bad thing, because all relationships involve a trade of energy, time, and emotions, and it’s important to consider our words carefully. Words mean things and words have power, because they form the backbone of the stories we tell about our lives. At the same time, there is no general gold standard for what does and does not count as “devotional enough.” Individual religions might have their own basic requirements and definitions, which do not always overlap between traditions. The question of “what is a devotional relationship anyway” is something I’ve tried to tackle in my essay series The Devotional Lifestyle.

With this particular post, I’d like to explore what devotion could mean in an Otherfaith context. I say could because we don’t have firm requirements for participation in the faith. Also, as devotion is an interpersonal activity, I think it’s important for both individuals involved in the relationship to decide their own expectations and boundaries. What is “proper” devotion for an Other Person depends on their own skills and preferences, the sort of relationship they’re seeking with a god or spirit, and that god or spirit’s intentions toward their human devotee. In short, there are just too many variables to create a straightforward map of Otherfaith devotion. I hope instead to provide some tools for you to navigate on your own, as well as point out potential signposts and landmarks to guide your way. When in doubt, consult your pineal gland.

A Note on Words

When I talk about devotional Paganism or polytheism, I believe self-identification is the most important aspect of deciding who is and isn’t “really” devotional. If you consider yourself in a devotional relationship, or are interested in what that might mean in your own life, congratulations! This series of posts is about you.

I use the term “devotee” to refer to the human half of a devotional relationship and “Beloved” to refer to the divine half. I realize this may not mesh with everyone’s devotional relationship; perhaps “Beloved” is too touchy-feely a term for your relationship; perhaps it’s strictly business, or perhaps “Beloved” conjures up romantic or nuptial images you just aren’t cool with. For me, “Beloved” is fairly neutral because “love” can encompass so many different emotions and behaviors. Feel free to substitute your own terms instead and/or debate my own words in the comments!

Everyone Is Different

We’re all individuals with our own likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, and ways of being and moving in this world. How we are right now, is this moment, is okay. That doesn’t mean there might not be room for improvement or that we should aim to stay the same forever; stagnation is unnatural and unhelpful, as several of our myths show. A relationship shouldn’t be stagnant, as there theoretically should be an exchange of something between the people involved. However, it means that we are ourselves and we are not our neighbors or friends or rivals. I am not a mystic, and attempting to force my religious behaviors into a mystic’s skillset would not only make for a pisspoor mystic, but for a very unhappy Sage. I am strong in terms of writing, organization, and thinking in visual terms, which means that devotional activities for me are things like writing for the Otherfaith blog, helping get the wiki together, and making approximately three billion Pinterest boards for different spirits. (See for example my boards on the Clarene and the Dierne.)

Likewise, our Beloveds are individuals themselves. We believe they have just as much personal agency as the humans who approach them, including who they will interact with and how they will do so. As the West is a meeting grounds of the human and faery realms, most of the spirits who reside there are interested to some degree in humanity. However, that doesn’t mean they all want a close, personal relationship, or that they will want the same kind of relationship with all humans, or that much should be assumed about their motives and desires at all. Whatever the distinction between human and fae and god – and indeed, those boundaries aren’t always helpful when dealing with especially liminal spirits like the Laetha – we are all endowed with personhood in some way or another. Respect autonomy, respect personal choice, and respect differences; this will help keep many problems from taking root in all types of relationships.

Because we are unique individuals, the terms of potential or actual devotional relationships are constantly in flux and negotiated between devotees and their Beloved(s). What the Clarene wants of me, and what I want of her, and how we navigate those dual desires, will not stay the same over time, nor will this process look like another’s relationship with the Clarene. My experience of the Clarene – “my” Clarene, if you will – is shaded by my own interpretation of the myths, my comfort navigating the Otherfaith, my own identities (queer, DFAB, white, fat, allistic, Pagan, sibling, child, lover, not-parent, book lover, shitty yet earnest gardener, social justice warrior), and past experiences with other gods and spirits. What I want from a relationship with the Clarene is equally influenced by who I am, what I’ve done, and the relationships I’ve had in the past. If we believe the gods and spirits also share personhood with humans, then we need to accept that they, too, will have their own experiences and desires that color their interaction with us.

Devotional Moods

Most of my experience with devotionalism has at this point been focused around the pan-Celtic goddess Brighid, so forgive me as I skirt around the Otherfaith for a short while to explain devotional moods. I first discovered this concept in my undergrad classes on Hinduism and saw it repeated in the blog Loop of Brighid on Patheos, run by my friend Gilbride. I don’t agree with all his points, but in general his blog is fascinating for a look at how someone can create and structure devotional practices.

I’m especially pulling from information in these two posts on Brigidine “devotional moods.” This comes the Hindu concept of bhakti, which emphasizes intense love between a human and their personal deity. Love manifests in many different forms and so practitioners of bhakti devotionalism may take different roles in loving their deity, such as a dedicated servant, a passionate lover, a close friend, or even an adoring parent with the deity looked after as a child. Gilbride compares and contrasts a list of bhakti devotional moods with personal names and scraps of Celtic myth and folklore related to Brighid. Experimenting with different devotional moods allows devotees a more nuanced understanding of their Beloved. You can also blend moods to see which fit best for you. In my own relationship with Brighid, I think of myself somewhere between a child and a friend.

I really love this approach because it supports diversity, both of devotionalism in general and within our own personal experiences. It also encourages us to be mindful when we think about our relationships and how they can develop. Perhaps you’re uncomfortable with the power dynamics in devotion-as-servant relationships, or perhaps you don’t like the idea of approaching the gods as divine parents. So long as the other half of the devotional relationship consents, there’s nothing keeping you from devoting yourself in another mood that better fits you. I think of myself as a friend to Epiphany and other Book Keepers, given that I work in a library. And given my dedication to justice and equality, I can see myself being a champion of the Ophelene.

You’ll notice that I prefer relationships that put me on more equal footing with gods and spirits. This is completely personal and no better or worse than someone who very much wants to take on a subservient role. You do you; be proud of who you are and respect what devotional needs you have.

Stay Tuned Next Week

In next week’s post I want to take all these ideas – that we’re individuals, that we should approach the gods and spirits as their own persons, that relationships are negotiated between consenting partners, that there are different devotional moods for approaching our Beloveds – and come up with some practical ways for doing devotion. In particular I’m going to look at the theory of multiple intelligences and apply that toward doing devotional work.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear back from you! What relationships are you cultivating in the Otherfaith, or beyond? What does devotion mean to you?